Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

464

Bismillah Khan: The Shenai's Humble Master

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
For most people in the West, classical Indian raga music means one instrument, the sitar, and one player, Ravi Shankar. Quite why Shankar came to be considered the greatest modern sitar player over Vilayat Khan and several others, and the sitar as the primary raga instrument over the sarod or the shenai, is debatable. But serendipity probably played a part—when the Beatles' George Harrison started experimenting with Indian music in the mid-1960s, Shankar was the musician he lionized. The West's subsequent embrace of raga has been sufficiently slender to allow for no other musician or instrument.



Like the slightly better-known sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, shenai player Bismillah Khan, who died in 2006 aged ninety, is another raga master deserving of wider international recognition. He was, and remains, a household name in India, where it's hard to find a family with a record player who don't own at least one of his albums. It was Khan's shenai which rang out from the ramparts of Delhi's Red Fort in 1947, as the British flag was lowered and that of newly independent India was raised, and for the next forty years he maintained a prolific performing, broadcasting and recording schedule.



The shenai itself is a people's instrument, the one most commonly played at weddings and in Hindu temples. Khan was the first player to take it into the mainstream of Indian classical music. A double-reed instrument like the oboe, but, in Khan's hands, one with a sweeter, more sonorous tone, its sound evokes John Coltrane's early-1960s work on the soprano saxophone, a resonance reinforced by the modal, raga-like structure of much of Coltrane's music at the time.



The Shenai's Humble Master, part of Saregama's excellent "Introducing The Masters" series, is a double-disc collecting some of Khan's most celebrated recordings from the years 1959-89, several of them on CD for the first time. On most tracks, Khan is accompanied by a tabla player and a shenai chorus, who act something like the resonating strings on a sitar, progressing in harmonic parallel to the lead. Over this background Khan launches into extended improvisations of breathtaking melodic invention. His every solo is a delight, and each one includes at least one passage which is so unexpected and so heart-stoppingly beautiful that it almost literally takes your breath away.



Other tracks find Khan in duet with Vilayat Khan or violinist V.G. Jog, and two others, "Bihag" and "Theme From Kajri," both from 1959, document his early excursions into film soundtracks. All of it has been lovingly re-mastered.



A magical album.

Track Listing: CD1: Raga Deshi Todi; Raga Multani; Raga Sarang; Raga Iman Kalyan; Raga Jogia. CD2: Bihag; Raga Jaiaiwanti; Raga Yaman; Raga Bhairavi; Theme From Kajri.

Personnel: Bismillah Khan: shenai; unidentified: shenai chorus and tablas; V.G. Jog: violin (CD2#2); Vilayat Khan: sitar (CD2#3-4).

Title: The Shenai's Humble Master | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Saregama India

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Read Caldera / Sky Islands Album Reviews
Caldera / Sky Islands
By Jakob Baekgaard
May 25, 2019
Read Baby, Please Come Home Album Reviews
Baby, Please Come Home
By Doug Collette
May 25, 2019
Read Reckless Heart Album Reviews
Reckless Heart
By Doug Collette
May 25, 2019
Read Fire Brigade Album Reviews
Fire Brigade
By Phillip Woolever
May 25, 2019
Read Day to Day Album Reviews
Day to Day
By Paul Naser
May 24, 2019
Read Theia Album Reviews
Theia
By Jim Worsley
May 24, 2019