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Ravi Shankar & Anoushka Shankar – 1997

The world lost an important musician yesterday: Ravi Shankar died, at  age 92 at a hospital near his home in southern California.

His instrument, the sitar, has a small rounded body and a long neck with a resonating gourd at the top. It has 6 melody strings and 25 sympathetic strings (which are not played but resonate freely as the other strings are plucked). Sitar performances are partly improvised, but the improvisations are strictly governed by a repertory of ragas (melodic patterns representing specific moods, times of day, seasons of the year or events) and talas (intricate rhythmic patterns) that date back several millenniums.

Mr. Shankar’s quest for a Western audience was helped in 1965 when George Harrison of the Beatles began to study the sitar with him.  In 1952 he met and began performing with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, with whom he made three recordings for EMI: “West Meets East” (1967), “West Meets East, Vol. 2” (1968) and “Improvisations: East Meets West” (1977).

He loved to mix the music of different cultures. He collaborated with the flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal and the jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane, who had become fascinated with Indian music and philosophy in the early ’60s. Coltrane met with Mr. Shankar several times from 1964 to 1966 to learn the basics of ragas, talas and Indian improvisation techniques. Coltrane named his son Ravi after Mr. Shankar.

He taught extensively in the United States. In the late 1960s he founded a school of Indian music, the Kinnara School, in Los Angeles. He was a visiting professor at City College in New York in 1967. Recordings of his City College lectures were the basis for “Learning Indian Music,” a set of cassettes that explain the basics of the style. Mr. Shankar was the subject of a documentary film, “Raga: A Journey Into the Soul of India,” in 1971, and published two autobiographies: “My Life, My Music” in 1969 and “Raga Mala” in 1997.

In 2010 the Ravi Shankar Foundation started a record label using a variation of the name of his collaboration with Menuhin, East Meets West Music, which began by reissuing some of his historic recordings and films, including “Raga.” Mr. Shankar’s first marriage, to Annapurna Devi, ended in the late 1960s. They had a son, Shubhendra Shankar, who died in 1992. He also had long relationships with Kamala Shastri, a dancer; and Sue Jones, a concert producer, with whom he had a daughter, the singer Norah Jones, in 1979; as well as Sukanya Rajan, whom he married in 1989. Mr. Shankar and Ms. Rajan had a daughter, the sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar, in 1981. He is survived by his wife and two daughters as well as three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“If I’ve accomplished anything in these past 30 years,” Mr. Shankar said in the 1985 interview, “it’s that I have been able to open the door to our music in the West. I enjoy seeing other Indian musicians — old and young — coming to Europe and America and having some success. I’m happy to have contributed to that.”

Information collected from The New York Times article, December 12th, 2012, by Allan Kozinn.

More about Ravi Shankar here.

More info about ragas here.

More about tablas here.