Music/Popular Culture

TunesDay: S&R felicitates the Carnatic sax

Via John Coltrane, Indian music helped free jazz. Then jazz returned the favor.

“Saxophone exponent Kadri Gopalnath [was] felicitated by the Padma Sarangapani Cultural Academy on Monday for ‘igniting the spirit of Carnatic music across frontiers, languages and ideologies.’. . . Mr. Gopalnath had masterfully integrated the saxophone, an instrument basically used in the lighter realms of Western music, into a highly classical music like Carnatic, V.V. Srivatsa, vice-president, Music Academy, said.” [Emphasis added.]
— The Hindu, 2006

Born into a musical family, Kadri Gopalnath, now 58, initially studied singing and the nadhaswaram, a woodwind instrument, in the Carnatic tradition, one of the two styles of Indian classical music. But upon seeing a brass band in concert, he fell for the saxophone, took it up, and became the first to adopt it to Carnatic music.

After scoring a successful international film, his career took off and, besides Indian classical music, he plays with jazz musicians worldwide. It’s hard to escape the conclusion he listened to the likes of John Coleman and Ornette Coleman, even though they inhabit, according to the Hindu, “the lighter realms of Western music.”

Back in 1987, Robert Palmer, the late music critic for the New York Times, wrote that Dr. Gopalnath, as he’s called, “has been able to transfer the bends, slurs and quavers of the traditional instrument to the western one with remarkable thoroughness. He is more or less reinventing the alto saxophone, using it to do things neither its western classical exponents nor the jazz players who have perfected it as an expressive instrument could have imagined.”

Below is the third of 33 parts of a concert of his. The violin player, Chennaiyil Thiruvaiyaru, miked higher, is astonishing too.

In recent years, a couple of talented students have followed in his footsteps. Here’s Prasant Radhakrishnan.

And Raga Keeravani.

1 reply »

  1. Interesting. I think it’ll take a while to get my ear wrapped around it. I really like jazz, though, and I think the the pacing is throwing me. I kinda wonder what Coltrane would do with something like this.