Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for March, 2012

The Miles advantage

AT 7.30 PM on March 24, an hour after the screening of ‘The Miles Davis Story’ began, the recording theatre at Mumbai’s Mehboob Studio was quite empty. Only 20 or 25 people were present in the hall, paying close attention to the jazz documentary. The crowd trickled in post-8 PM, primarily to watch the live acts — singer Daniel Tyler of the Full Moon Rising project, funk-R n B outfit Naina Kundu Trio and jazz-rock band Max Clouth Trio.

The evening was part of the monthly Live From The Console series organised by Oranjuice and Day 1, a Sony Music division. Sadly, most of the 200-plus people who sauntered in later missed the documentary on trumpeter and bandleader Miles Davis, one of the most influential and innovative figures in 20th century music and one of the greatest names in jazz history. Maybe the 6.30 PM timing was a bit early for their Saturday night. Or maybe it was because a large number of Mumbai’s so-called current-day jazz fans have never really tuned in to Miles, preferring more modern and rambunctious forms of the genre instead.

‘The Miles Davis Story’ is directed by British documentary filmmaker Mike Dibb, whose other subjects have included surrealist painter Salvador Dali, Nobel winning Mexican writer Octavio Paz and jazz/ classical pianist Keith Jarrett. With some amazing research, lots of trivia, brilliant concert footage and a series of interviews with musicians and industry-folk close to Miles, he keeps the viewer riveted over the film’s two-hour length.

If John Szwed’s biography ‘So What: The Life Of Miles Davis’ gives a deep reading insight into the legend’s life, Dibb’s film provides the visual and aural pleasure, and the nostalgia. The documentary deals with Miles’ upbringing, his brief stint at the Juilliard School, his interactions with bebop greats Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, his recordings with bandleader Gil Evans, his work with French filmmaker Louis Malle and his own pathbreaking innovations in cool jazz, hard bop, jazz-rock and even the much-criticised hip-hop jazz.

The list of recordings featured include ‘Birth of the Cool’, ’Milestones’, ‘Kind of Blue’, ‘Miles Ahead’, ‘Sketches of Spain’, ‘ESP’, ‘Bitches Brew’, ‘A Tribute To Jack Johnson’, ‘Tutu’ and the posthumously-released ‘Doo-Bop’, and one hears snippets of classic jazz numbers like ‘So What’, ‘Milestones’, ‘All Blues’, ‘Spanish Key’ and ‘Tutu’.

Snapshots of Miles playing the trumpet, eyes closed and back to audience, Parker and Gillespie doing a fascinating duet, and amazing solos by saxophone great John Coltrane, pianist Chick Corea, saxophonist Bill Evans and percussionist Don Alias are woven perfectly into the narrative. For variety, there’s also a dazzling performance by guitar god Jimi Hendrix, whose work Miles particularly admired.

The list of interviewees reads like a who’s who of post-70 jazz and jazz-rock, with names like guitarist John McLaughiln, bassists Ron Carter and Marcus Miller, pianists Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Joe Zawinul and Corea, saxophonist Evans, trumpeter Ian Carr, singer Shirley Horn, and drummers Jack DeJohnette and Alias, besides recording industry bigwig George Avakian.

There are snatches from his personal life too, as the film talks of Miles’s association with Irene Cawthon (prominently interviewed here), Betty Mabry, Cecily Tyson and Juliette Greco, besides close friend Shirley Horn, and also his relationship with his children Cheryl, Gregory and Miles IV. His stints with drugs, depression and illness are given due footage, and his death in September 1991 described with a sense of true loss.

Over the years, jazz has boasted of numerous icons and extraordinary musicians, but Miles carved a niche of his own by creating defining newer sounds and textures. He moved with the times, and like a Pied Piper, inspired scores of music to follow his path. As such, ‘The Miles Davis Story’ is a remarkable tribute to his genius

One only wishes more people had made it earlier to experience the film’s brilliance. Of course, they can always catch the DVD.


The magic of Ravi

I’VE had two lengthy interactions with music director Ravi — one formal and one informal. The former was around 10 years ago, when I was working on a column for Mid-Day newspaper, which required well-known film personalities to talk about a specific achievement in their careers. The topic we had chosen for Ravi was the song ‘Chaudhvin ka chand’, written by Shakeel Badayuni and sung by Mohammed Rafi. Nostalgically, he had spent two hours at his Santacruz residence going into every detail that went into the making of the classic.

The second lengthy meeting — there had been many short ones at parties, mostly hosted by Zee TV — was on July 27, 2005, a day of the famous Mumbai floods. Ravi’s nephew Ashutosh Bharadwaj is a friend of mine, and both of us had stayed at his place that day as our houses were affected by the floods. My good luck was that I had a wonderful chat about film music that lasted three or four hours, without having to bother about putting anything into print.

Both these incidents came to mind on the evening of Wednesday, March 7, when I heard the news of 86-year-old Ravi’s demise. He had been ailing for a while, but the sudden phone call left me in shock. After all, I had been greatly impressed by the man’s humility and the affection he showered on each of our meetings.

Ravi was a genius, no doubt, but he was also relatively under-rated compared to his contemporaries. Let’s talk about both these aspects.

First, the Ravi brilliance. Among Hindi films, he did some remarkable work in ‘Waqt’, ‘Chaudhvin Ka Chand’, ‘Nikaah’, ‘Gumraah’, ‘Neel Kamal’, ‘Ek Phool Do Mali’, ‘Dilli Ka Thug’, ‘China Town’, ‘Aankhen’, ‘Gharana’ and ‘Khandaan’ — having won Filmfare awards for the last two in 1961 and 1965. He was a favourite of director BR Chopra, and later on, made a name in Malayalam movies, whose music I’ve unfortunately not heard. He used raag Pahadi wonderfully.

Among the Facebook posts reacting to his death, my friend NS Padmanabhan summed up Ravi’s contribution to film music succinctly, by saying: “Aye meri zohra jabeen’ is played in every single wedding/ sangeet. ‘Aage bhi jaane na tu’ remains a guitar classic. ‘Chalo ek baar’ remains Mahendra Kapoor’s most melodic song. Rafi sang in hundreds of songs for Shankar-Jaikishen, SD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal etc but ‘Chaudhvin ka chand’ is part of his top five at least.” An apt description, indeed.

Indeed, those who’ve followed Ravi’s career would understand how well he worked with Rafi. ‘Chaudhvin ka chand’ and ‘Mili khaak mein mohabbat’ (‘Chaudhvin Ka Chand’), ‘Husnwale tera jawaab nahin’ (‘Gharana’), ‘Aaja tujhko pukaare mera pyaar’ (‘Neelkamal’), ‘Baar baar dekho’ (‘China Town’) and ‘Nanhe se farishtey’ (‘Ek Phool Do Mali’) are great examples of the composer-singer combination.

There were other singers too, who had some great hits from him. In ‘Dilli Ka Thug’, Kishore Kumar excelled on ‘Yeh Raatein Yeh Mausam’, ‘Cat Maane Billi’ and ‘Hum Toh Mohabbat Karega’ — the first two with Asha Bhosle. Asha’s songs in ‘Waqt’ — ‘Aage bhi jaane na tu’ and ‘Kaun aaya’ — were gems. Lata Mangeshkar teamed up with Ravi on ‘Tu hi meri mandir’ (‘Khandaan’) and ‘Gairon pe karam’ and ‘Milti hai zindagi mein mohabbat’ (‘Aankhen’). Geeta Dutt had ‘Baalam se milan hoga’ in ‘Chaudhvin Ka Chand’.

 Manna Dey’s all-time favourites include the ‘Waqt’ anthem ‘Aye meri zohra jabeen’, which is actually based on a qawwali by Afghanistan’s Ustad Abdul Ghafoor Breshna, and the marvellous ‘Tujhe suraj kahoon ya chanda’ (‘Ek Phool Do Mali’). Mahendra Kapoor did ‘Chalo ek baar’ and ‘Tujhko mera pyaar pukaare’ in ‘Gumraah’, and ‘Din hai bahaar ke’ with Asha in ‘Waqt’. And finally, Salma Agha rendered the well-known ‘Dil ke armaan’ and ‘Dil ki yeh arzoo’ in ‘Nikaah’.

Yet, despite this string of masterpieces, Ravi remained under-rated. While the first rung of composers in various eras included Naushad, Shankar-Jaikishen, SD Burman, OP Nayyar, Madan Mohan, RD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji, Ravi somehow never made it to the very top. In that sense, he was like Salil Chowdhury, Jaidev, C Ramchandra, Husnlal-Bhagatram, Khayyam, Roshan and Ravindra Jain — many absolutely brilliant songs, but yet never in the real top grade.

The reason for this is probably that barring BR Chopra, Ravi never had the biggest banners or stars to back him. Secondly, a large chunk of his music went unnoticed as the films flopped. Thirdly, he himself was selective about his work, doing much fewer films than some of his contemporaries, and preferred not to get into the kind of marketing tactics required in the industry.

The fact, of course, is that Ravi has been one of the biggest contributors to film music. His songs are remembered today, and will continue to do so. With his death, Hindi film music has lost a true gem and true gentleman.


IN response to my piece above, my Facebook friend Shankar Shenai wrote his response on Facebook. He’s a hardcrore Ravi fan, and am posting his comments below, which give a further insight into the genius of the composer.

Shankar Shenai wrote: “I appreciate your write-up on the late Ravi. He was a great music composer and I agree with you on your few references of songs you mentioned. Me being an ardent fan of Ravi-ji, can’t just forget his gems.

“For Rafi, ‘Jaane bahaar husn tera bemisal hai’ (‘Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya’), ‘Sau Baar Janam Lenge’ (‘Ustadon Ka Ustad’), ‘Yeh Waadiyan Yeh Fizaayen’ (‘Aaj Aur Kal’), ‘Choo lene do naazuk honton ko’ (‘Kaajal’), ‘Is Bhari Duniya Ko’ (‘Do Badan’), ‘Babul ki duwayen leti ja’ (‘Neelkamal’) and ‘Zindagi ke safar mein akele the hum’ (‘Nartaki’) were better if compared to any other music directors of that era.

“At that time, Asha settled well with OP Nayyar and Ravi only. Lata Mangeshkar also had some fabulous numbers under his composition. Mukesh and Manna Dey got a few. However, Mahendra Kapoor was mostly based on Ravi-ji and later on OP Nayyar.

“Apart from his solo numbers, his duet songs were outstanding and to mention them would require another page. Many thanks for writing such a beautiful obituary for Ravi-ji, who never got his due from this cruel industry.”

 Thanks Shankar, for your detailed feedback.


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