‘Indo-jazz fusions revisited’. (November 16, 2022 EFG LJF) – London Jazz News

Come full circle… the Royal Academy of Music’s jazz department has invited sitar player Jonathan Mayer to celebrate ‘Indo-Jazz Fusions’, the pioneering 1960s band that was co-led by Jonathan’s father, the Calcutta-born composer John Mayer, and jazz saxophonist Joe Harriott.

The concert marks 70 years since the autumn of 1952, when John Mayer (1930-2004) came to England on a scholarship to study composition and violin at the Academy. He then worked professionally in London as an orchestral violinist for over a decade, while developing an interest as a composer in finding common threads between jazz, classical music and the music of his country. of birth. His contribution to music is unique. Interview with Jonathan Mayer by Sebastian Scotney.

Joe Harriott and John Mayer, 1966. Photo from the personal collection of Jonathan Mayer.

London Jazz News: Should we consider Indo Jazz Fusions as a group… an album… or a movement?

Jonathan Mayer: I would say it started as a concept that formed a band that created albums and ended up creating a movement. Indo-Jazz Fusion (or simply Indo-Jazz) is now a genre and it all stems from Indo-Jazz Fusions, the 1966 band

LJN: According to you, what are the common threads that your father found between jazz, classical composition and Indian music?

JM: The strongest common thread between jazz and Indian music is improvisation. North Indian improvisation (my father watched North Indian music and not South Indian Carnatic which is very different) is very structured and when used with rhythm (tala) takes the form of gat (composition ) around a rhythmic cycle. This gat can be considered the “head” and since there is no harmony in Indian music, they have to rely on rhythm and melody.

As my father studied Indian music, he knew how he could incorporate Indian ragas (scales) and talas (rhythms) into a jazz idiom. He also knew he could incorporate his classic songwriting style into Indo-Jazz fusions and the best example of this is the piece “Overture” where my dad uses 3 voice counterpoint.

John Mayer in 1975. Photo from the personal collection of Jonathan Mayer.

LJN: What do you think is his greatest and most enduring musical legacy?

JM: Three of my dad’s pieces really stand out.

1. Dhammapada – The EMI commissioned album telling the story of the spread of Buddhism through music, is truly an amazing album with jazz, classical, Indian and Chinese influences;

2. Six Ragamalas for solo cello – It shows how my father was able to write for Western instruments and make them sound Indian;

3. Violin Concerto No. 2 – My father’s orchestral writing at its best.

All these recordings are available on First Hand Records

Jonathan Mayer. Publicity photo

LJN: As a musician, you have a unique heritage. What led you to specialize in the sitar?

JM: I was always surrounded by music when I was a child although I must say that my parents considered music as a profession and therefore there was never singing around the piano (thank God!). Instead, I was taken on tours and gigs from an early age and learned the violin from my grandfather (on my mother’s side) and had piano lessons. I was also exposed to Indian music and by the age of 15 I had found my father’s Indo-jazz records and a tape of Dhammapada and it was this recording that made me want to learn the sitar. We have family friends who are from Kolkata and they took my first sitar from there and I started learning from Clem Alford, the sitarist of the Dhammapada registration.

More specifically on my heritage, I’m biologically half Indian and half English and I play who I am, my compositions are influenced by both cultures (like my father) and when I play the sitar I look for influences outside of the Indian classical genre.

LJN: Have you ever done the George Harrison thing and gone to learn with a grandmaster under a tree or by a fast flowing river?

JM: Ha! Nope! The funniest thing about Indian music is the western perception of it. The whole hippie movement has affected the way people in the West listen to Indian music with incense sticks burning and tie-dye worn. However, Indians see it quite differently, with taalim (training) and riyaz (practice) being very important and sometimes inculcated quite forcefully. I studied from Clem Alford, Wajahat Khan and Pandit Subroto Roy Chowdhury who all had different approaches to teaching that shaped my playing style.

LJN: You revived the band in the 1990s with your father involved. What was the story there? Hasn’t the world around you changed a lot?

JM: In the late 1980s, my father got the job of composer-in-residence at the Birmingham Conservatory, and students were extremely interested in his Indo-jazz work. He formed a band that explored compositions but there were no Indian musicians at that time. By the time I arrived at the Conservatory there were more and we were able to form the full band, which was approached by Nimbus Records to record a new version of the old band and include some new material. In total we made four new albums and toured in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but when my father passed away in 2004, I just didn’t have the heart to continue with the band. I did a concert Dhammapada and Indo-Jazz materials a few years ago but nothing else since.

LJN: Tell LJN Readers About the November 16 Concert and What You’ll Be Playing

JM: November 16th will see the first time the Indo-Jazz Fusions group have played since 2002. We will be playing my father’s original compositions from the 1960s. It will be a great evening with great players from the Royal Academy of Music led by smart nick (Head of Jazz), myself on sitar and Mitel Purohit on the table.

CONNECTIONS: Guardian obituary of John Mayer

More information about the concert on November 16 on the EFG London Jazz Festival website

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