Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for November, 2011

Remembering Jagjit Singh

On the morning of October 10, I had just begun a bus journey from Chandigarh to Delhi, en route to Jaipur. An hour into the journey, I got a call from a Mid-Day reporter informing me of the death of ghazal legend Jagjit Singh, and requesting me to write an obituary. Unfortunately, my travel plan ensured that I would reach Jaipur only by 9 pm that day, much after the newspaper deadline. With much regret, I declined the offer.

Once the round of SMSing friends about the news was over, the truth began sinking in. Yes, we all knew Jagjit-ji was critical since September 23, when he was hospitalised after suffering a brain haemorrhage. But the fact that he was no longer with us was difficult to digest. Suddenly, songs like ‘Pareshaan raat saari hai’, ‘Baat niklegi to phir’, ‘Woh kaagaz ki kashti’, ‘Sadma to hai mujhe bhi’, ‘Honto se choolon tum’, ‘Sarakhti jaaye rukh se naqaab’, ‘Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho’ – and many others – came to mind.

Having covered the music beat for Mid-Day newspaper in Mumbai from 1995 to 2005, I had the privilege of meeting Jagjit-ji on numerous occasions. Of course, I had been a ghazal fan since the early 80s, when Jagjit-Chitra Singh, Pankaj Udhas, Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hassan and Talat Aziz were at their creative and commercial peak. Among Jagjit-ji’s albums, ‘The Unforgettables’, ‘A Milestone’, ‘The Latest’ and ‘Mirza Ghalib’ had been my personal favourites, though I also loved his film songs from ‘Prem Geet, ‘Arth’ and ‘Saath Saath’.

Strangely, I was a bundle of nerves when I headed for my first scheduled meeting with Jagjit-ji some time in 1996, just before the release of his album ‘Love Is Blind’. I had heard he normally didn’t welcome the press openly, especially if the reporter knew little about ghazals or asked shallow questions. And though I had followed the genre, I was not familiar with the technical nuances. After entering his place near Mumbai’s Sophia Bhabha College, my nervousness multiplied as there was hardly any eye contact from him during the first five minutes.

Jagjit-ji, however, opened up when I asked him how he chose the poetry, and there had been times he had used the work of lesser-known poets just because he had liked their work. That was when he smiled, and asked: “What poets do you know of… Besides Gulzar-saab, Javed-saab, or maybe Ghalib?” I named Qateel Shifai, Sudarshan Faakir, Nida Fazli, Kaifi Azmi and Kafeel Aazar.

The ice was broken, and while he did understand that I was not an expert in the field and probably just a name-dropper, he realised I was deeply interested. After the official interview was over, he spent another half an hour explaining the nuances of ghazal-singing and poetry. That meeting converted me from being an avid listener to someone who tried to understand more about the deeper elements of the genre. Later on, ghazal singer Rajendra Mehta helped me a lot in appreciating ghazals even better.

AS all fans would agree, Jagjit-ji had played a major role in spreading the reach of the ghazal among the masses. Besides using simpler poetry that could be comprehended by a wider cross-section of listeners, he introduced musical instruments like the guitar, saxophone and keyboard to a genre which earlier relied mainly on tabla, harmonium and sarangi. To add to that, thanks to his efforts, ghazals were used in a major way in films in the ‘80s. Though that wasn’t a new phenomenon – ghazals had been in the film music repertoire for years  – artistes like Jagjit-ji, Pankaj Udhas and Talat Aziz took the ghazal wave of the ‘80s successfully to reach the more lyrically-inclined film music buff.

There have often been arguments that Jagjit-ji’s earlier work, especially with his work with Chitra, were far superior in content and class – even this blogger finds the earlier albums more appealing. But that’s not to discount the work he recorded as a solo artiste, once Chitra stopped singing following the death of their son Vivek. Though he tended to sound repetitive at times and was also inclined towards rehashing his own older tunes, albums like ‘Sajda’ with Lata Mangeshkar, ‘Silsilay’ with Javed Akhtar and ‘Marasim’ with Gulzar were all prime examples of his class. The film gems kept coming too  – ‘Hoshwalon ko khabar kya’ (‘Sarfarosh’), ‘Badi Naazuk Hai’ (‘Joggers’ Park’) and ‘Jaag Ke Kaati Saari Raina’ (‘Leela’) being among all-time favourites. Most important, only he and Udhas continued to continuously do live shows to packed capacity.

Strangely enough, Jagjit-ji’s devotional recordings never became as popular as they deserved to be. Over the years, he has recorded some outstanding songs like ‘Varde Varde Varde’, ‘Tum Karuna Ke Saagar Ho’, ‘Hey Ram Hey Ram’, ‘Baanke Bihari’, ‘Jai Ganesh Deva’ and ‘Tum Dhoondo Mujhe Gopal’  – in fact, during the past seven or eight years, he concentrated more on bhajans. Probably the albums weren’t marketed too well, or maybe because he was still identified only as a ghazal singer, exposure was relatively low, and so were sales. Still, his ability to render these songs so soulfully  –  often with a strong emphasis on accompanying choruses  – proved his versatility. Maybe, those who haven’t really followed that side of him, should pick up a few CDs.


JAGJIT-JI’S death has come as a huge shock to the music world. Over the past few weeks, there have been a couple of tribute concerts in his memory. First, Hariharan and Jaswinder Singh did a show at Mumbai’s Nehru Centre, followed by one by Jaswinder in Vashi. On November 20, Ghansham Vaswani and Tauseef Akhtar rendered some of the maestro’s gems at a gathering in Juhu. An audio-visual, featuring interviews of those who were close to Jagjit-ji, sent everyone into a nostalgia mode. As summarised by one of the speakers, Jagjit-ji may not be physically present with us, but his songs are immortal.


An initiation into western classical music

Hi all

Am posting a piece I wrote a while ago to circulate to those who have a basic liking for western classical music, but are looking to know more about the nuances. Am sharing it on this blog



MANY people listening to western classical music for the first time may find it heavy, or even boring. It often requires patience and perseverance to develop a taste for it, unless one is exposed to some of the more popular and melodious tunes initially—pieces like Johann Strauss Jr’s ‘The Blue Danube’ (an elevator favourite), Beethoven’s 5th symphony (rearranged to a disco sound in ‘Saturday Night Fever’), Mozart’s 25th symphony (used in the Titan watches ad), Mozart’s 40th symphony (adapted by Salil Chowdhury in ‘Itna na mujhse tu pyar badha’) and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’ (rearranged in the movie ‘Black Swan’).


However, complex as it may appear, western classical music can be appreciated if one knows a few basic fundamentals. Like all genres, it has its rules and techniques. But unlike most genres, there’s absolutely no scope for a musician to improvise or use his own creativity, as the piece HAS to be played the way it was originally written. The feel and expression may change each time, depending on who’s playing it, but the notes and arrangements have to stay the same.


What must one keep in mind to appreciate western classical music? Here are the very basics:
1 Composer and era
While listening to a classical work, the first thing one keeps in mind is the composer and which era he belonged to. After all, the composer is the brainchild of the musical piece, and it is his imagination that musicians are expressing as dictated by him. The five eras in classical music, along with the main composers, are:

a) Baroque period (1600-1770, roughly)—Bach, Vivaldi, Handel. The early music of Haydn came under this era. This era was preceded by European church music and the Renaissance period—a lot of which is termed gospel music these days.
b) Classical period (1770-1815, roughly)—Later Haydn, Mozart, early Beethoven. While Haydn is considered a bridge between the baroque and classical eras, Beethoven is seen as a bridge between the Classical and Romantic eras
c) Romantic period (1815-1910, roughly)—Later-day Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Johannes Brahms, many others
d) Modern period (1910-1975)—Igor Stravinsky, Dmitri Shostakovich, Edward Elgar, Benjamin Britten, Arnold Schoenberg. Charles Ives. Some people feel that though he lived before this era, Wagner’s style of composition had a major influence on modern composers.

e) Contemporary period (1975 onwards)—Philip Glass, Terry Riley, John Adams, Karl Jenkins, John Tavener.

There is another school which classifies conductors by country, but that can be done once one is a bit deeper into the music.

2 Conductor
The conductor is the person who leads the orchestra which plays the composer’s music, whether it is live on stage or for a recording. Though all orchestras play the same piece the same way, a good conductor can bring about better tone, texture, colour and feel from the musicians. The best known conductors are Leonard Bernstein, Herbert Von Karajan, Georg Solti, Otto Klemperer, Yehudi Menuhin, Daniel Barenboim, Antal Dorati, Simon Rattle and India’s very own Zubin Mehta.

3 The type of music
This could be either orchestral/ philharmonic (where many musicians—even 50 or 100—play together) or chamber music. The latter can have a small group of musicians—even 20 or 25—or lesser numbers like solo, duet, trio and quartet. A string quartet, for instance, has two violins, a viola and a cello.

4 The type of composition
The popular ones are:
a) Symphony—This is where a large number of musicians play a pre-composed piece. Symphonies have many violinists, violists and cellists, and a smaller number of bass players, horn players, percussionists, and on many occasions, a pianist.
b) Concerto—Here again, a large number of musicians play together, but the difference is that one musician has a more prominent role. Thus in a piano concerto, the pianist is the soloist who is the backbone of the piece.
c) Quartets, trios, duets and solos—Feature four, three, two and one player, respectively.
d) Sonatas—These are small compositions which are played on instruments (as opposed to cantatas, which are sung).
e) Opera—This is considred another genre altogether, but the base is the same. Here, various singers play the roles of the cast in a story. Each singer has a certain voice range (for men it is bass, bass-baritone, baritone, tenor and counter-tenor, and for women it is alto, contralto, mezzo-soprano and soprano). They are backed by an orchestra. Popular opera composers are Verdi, Rossini, Puccini, Mozart and Wagner. Singers of operatic music include Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Maria Callas and Monserrat Caballe.
f) Waltzes, marches, dances—These are akin to Indian light classical music. Usually sprightly and catchy tunes. The most famous waltz composer is Johann Strauss Jr, best known for ‘The Blue Danube’. In the contemporary world, violinist-conductor Andre Rieu is known for his modern interpretations of such tunes, accompanied by a large orchestra.
g) Ballet—Longer pieces written for dance enactments. Popular ballet composers are Tchaikovsky (‘Swan Lake’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’), Profokiev (‘Romeo and Juliet’), and Stravinsky (‘The Firebird’).
h) Choir/ choral music—Many singers sing in harmony, but not for a story situation.

5 Movements

Just like Indian vocal music has the slow vilambit and fast drut, and Indian instrumental music has the alaap, jod and jhala sequence, western classical music is divided into movements, often based on their tempo. Most symphonies have four movements—fast, slow, fast, extra-fast, played in that order. Concertos can have four or three movements—from fast to slow to fast again. Though different names are given to different movements based on their speed, the common ones are adagio (slow), largo (very slow), andante (slow, at a walking pace), allegro (fast), scherzo (very fast) and vivace (lively).

6 Instruments used

Last bust not the least, one must keep in mind the musical instruments used. The most prominent ones used in western classical music are the violin, cello, viola and piano, but on the whole instruments can be characterised into:
a) Stringed instruments—Violin, viola, cello, double bass, guitar (lesser used), harp (used more in earlier classical music)
b) Wind instruments—Flute, piccolo, oboe, bassoon, clarinet
c) Brass instruments—French horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba
d) Percussion instruments—Timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals
e) Keyboard instruments—Piano, organ, harpsichord

Well, if one keeps these six things in mind, it becomes easier to appreciate western classical music. For those who are keen to make a beginning, one can start with a compilation called ‘100 Greatest Classical Works’ (EMI). Once one has acquired that basic taste, here are 10 album recommendations:

1 VivaldiThe Four Seasons
2 Bach
6 flute sonatas and The Brandenburg Concertos
3 Mozart
Symphony No 25, Symphony No 40 and ‘Eine Klein Nachtmusik’
4 Beethoven
Symphony No 5, Moonlight Sonata, Piano Concerto No 5 (used very well in ‘The King’s Speec’h), Symphony No 9
5 Rimmsky Korsakov
Scheherezade (a great CD for beginners)
6 Hector Berlioz
Symphonie Fantastique
7 Johann Strauss Jr
Viennese Waltzes (light tunes – semi-classical in nature). Also called ‘Vienerwaltzer’
8 Tchaikovsky
Swan Lake (another great CD for beginners)
9 Stravinsky
Firebird and The Rite Of Spring
10 Rachmaninnoff
Piano concerto No 2 (pl don’t try his piano concerto No 1)


Pieces one can check on YouTube


1 Maurice Ravel—Bolero (one of the ultimate musical pieces)

2 Mozart25th Symphony

3 Mozart – 40th Symphony

4 Beethoven5th Symphony

5 Johann Strauss JrThe Blue Danube

6 TchaikovksySwan Lake

7 Carl OrffCarmina Buranna (Old Spice ad)

8 WagnerRide of The Valkyries

9 Tchaikovsky5th symphony movement 2 (which inspired John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’)

10 PachelbelCanon in D


Concert time in Mumbai

AMONG all the Indian cities, Mumbai probably has the most happening concert scene, specially between October and March. Yes, Bangalore is better known for hosting the bigger rock acts, Chennai has a wonderful season of Carnatic music (the south Indian classical form), Delhi produces some of the best bands from the country, and Kolkata attracts the more serious listeners. But talk of Mumbai, and during this period of the year, it boasts of the largest chunk of Hindustani classical, film music, western classical and jazz shows.

Returning to Mumbai after a five-month work stint in Bangalore, I must consider myself lucky to have come here at the beginning of what promises to be another exciting music season. In the space of barely a week, I attended three fantastic concerts—two in the Indo-jazz fusion space, and one in the ghazal genre. And the actual Hindustani classical season is just about to begin, with the well-known Gunidas Sangeet Sammelan scheduled next week, and tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain commencing his annual back-to-back Indian schedule soon.

The first of these concerts, held at the Shanmukhananda Hall, Sion, on November 17, was titled ‘Beats & Winds’. It was the debut venture of Madhyam Entertainment, an event management company floated by an old friend Vaibhav Patil, a well-known name in public relations. The line-up was spectacular – Trilok Gurtu on drums, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on Mohan Veena (an Indianised version of the slide guitar), Ronu Majumdar on Indian bamboo flute, George Brooks on saxophone, Roopkumar Rathod on vocals, Atul Raninga on keyboards and Vijay Chavan on dholki, an Indian percussion instrument. Keeping that in mind, the concert should have been titled ‘Beats, Winds, Strings, Keys & Voice’!

Strangely, it was marketed as a ‘unique classical music concert’. In truth, it wasn’t classical in the real sense, but a good, high-energy amalgam of Indian classical, jazz, world music, folk and Sufiana music. Some brilliant performances by all the musicians made it memorable.

Concert Number 2 was a private gathering, held at Ajivasan hall in Juhu on November 20 in memory of the great ghazal singer Jagjit Singh, who passed away on October 10. Featuring singers Ghansham Vaswani and Tauseef Akhtar, it propelled the audience into nostalgia mode, with renditions of popular songs like ‘Baat Niklegi To Phir’, ‘Sarakhti Jaaye Rukh Se Naqab’, ‘Yeh Tera Ghar Yeh Mera Ghar’, ‘Woh Kaagiz Ki Kashti’ and ‘Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi’.

Finally, there was a brilliant show by BuJazzO—short for the German group Bundesjazzorchester— which collaborated with Carnatic singer Rama Mani, and percussionists TAS Mani, Ramesh Shotham and Karthik Mani at the St Andrew’s auditorium, Bandra, on November 23. Conducted by Mike Herting, it was a unique mix of large ensemble jazz, Carnatic music and vocal choruses, with some amazing rearrangements of compositions by Charlie Mariano and Louis Banks.

There was, of course, a lot more happening over the past week, mainly in the suburb of Bandra which is hosting some wonderful open-air concerts as part of the Bandra festival. Missed attending them, but am sure there will be so much more over the next few weeks.

Tag Cloud