Shankar Tucker plays Alaap in Raag Bhairavi
A week ago, gifted musician and composer Shankar Tucker was invited to play at the first Indo American Inaugural Ball in Washington DC, along with a talented group of singers that included Vidya & Vandana (the Iyer sisters) and Rohan Kymal, who have performed with Shankar at concerts and on recordings released via his online music site, the Shruti Box.
TC caught up with Shankar in a tiny recording studio tucked away in a corner of Brooklyn (NY) to chat about the music that he says 'speaks to me'.
He means the Hindustani classical genre that he discovered as a young schoolboy in Massachusetts when he first stumbled upon a recording of John McLaughlin's 'Shakti'. McLaughlin is the jazz virtuoso whose groundbreaking vision of Indian classical fused with jazz erupted in the exhilarating insanity of 'Joy', the introductory track on Shakti, a CD that changed the way that people listened to music and introduced the world to Zakir Hussain's tabla, L. Shankar's violin, and master ghatam player T.H. Vinyakaram (see clip on right).
Shankar grew fascinated with jazz and especially with the Indian raag; its scale, time signature and improvisation, he says, develops in 'the perfect balance of improvisation, composition and complete understanding of music' - in an approach, says Shankar, that 'speaks to me!'
He grew up in Massachusetts in a household of artists, learning western classicial music, first from his musician grandfather, and following it with a degree in classical clarinet performance. But Shankar was increasingly drawn to India and its music, and eventually became a student of Hari Prasad Chaurasia, the legendary Indian classical instrumentalist and bansuri player. Shankar showed TC how he has adapted the clarinet to play the very distinctive notes peculiar to the Indian classical flute - a skillful modification that works to his favor as he clearly demonstrated in an impromptu but beautifully evocative rendition of raag Bhairavi.
Shankar's inventive collaborations with a variety of young singers is finding an appreciative audience via The Shruti Box, his online offering of musical creations that fuse jazz with a wide range of styles from south Indian classical to Hindi-Western pop mashups.
Recently he finished composing the music for a south Indian feature film, performed at a concert at MIT and played at Jo Biden's White House Diwali party. Like a beguiling raaga, the melodic interplay of cross cultural sounds in Shankar's music seem to be hitting the right note at home and abroad.
To hear more Shankar Tucker go to The Shruti Box