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Impossible Combinations: Indo-Jazz Music

by Michele Lipori

by Michele Lipori. Confronti Editorial Staff

Already the Beatles of Norwegian Wood (the first Western rock music song to include a sitar in its lineup) and the Rolling Stones of Paint it Black had accustomed the Western ear to sounds coming from India, so much so that – in the 60s – it had become an almost obligatory destination and not only for “psychedelic” musicians. But in addition to pop-rock music meeting India, so too did jazz, first through isolated experiments and insights but which over time have given rise to a real trend, with its own peculiar characteristics.

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Joe Harriott

Born in Jamaica in 1928, the saxophonist will go down in history for his double quintet which featured the violinist John Mayer, with whom he will be recognized as one of the founders of indo-jazz fusion. The most famous of their records is 1966’s Indo-Jazz Suite.

Duke Ellington

In 1966 the famous pianist, composer and conductor recorded the album Far East Suite. The songs were an attempt to take over “other” musical cultures, including India, as evidenced by the song Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah).

Charles Mingus

The African-American double bass player and composer, self-described underdog (i.e., “loser” or “outsider,” also in the racial sense: Mingus, in fact, had African, Swedish, Chinese and Indian ancestors) was always a great defender of the African origin of jazz. However, on his deathbed, he requested that his ashes be scattered in the Ganges. His wife, Sue Mingus, complied with his last wishes.

Yusef Lateef

Born with the name William Emanuel Huddleston, Lateef is one of the many African-Americans who would decide to convert to Islam (in his case to the Ahmadiyya current). In his record Eastern Sounds the desire to mix with Indian music is manifested (the double bass is replaced by an Indian rubab), as well as in the song India.

Jon MacLaughlin

One of the standard bearers of fusion. The American guitarist was greatly influenced by Indian music, as is evident in the records of the Shakti group, founded with the Indian musician Zakir Hussain.

John Coltrane

The 1965 album A Love Supreme (one of the saxophonist’s masterpieces and a turning point for his career and for all jazz music), goes beyond the song form typical of jazz by adding expressive modes typical of “other” cultures, including that of India. The union with Indian music would be even more evident in subsequent albums, such as Kulu Se Mama and, in the middle of the free jazz period, Om.

Alice Coltrane

John’s second wife, Alice – pianist, harpist and singer – would embrace the Hindu religion by acquiring the name of Turiyasangitananda (“the bliss of the Lord’s sublime music”) and founding her own ashram. Her music, extremely multifaceted, will be—from the meeting with John, onwards—increasingly characterized by the mingling with Indian culture, both in solo albums such as Translinear Light or Eternity (in which Om Supreme appears, with clear reference to John) and with other artists (as in For Turiya, where she is accompanied by the likes of Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Paul Motian and Charlie Haden).

Michele Lipori

Michele Lipori

Confronti Editorial Staff

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