Kolkatta based composer Late John Mayer is known for his work in fusion music in India during the 1950’s. He pioneered the art of fusing western music with Indians ragas. One of his works, ‘Dhammapada’ has an extensive sitar solo in ‘Raag Puria Dhanashri’. This solo got his 15 year old son Jonathan hooked to the sitar.
Jonathan started learning the violin and piano when he was just 5. His father’s collaborations in Indian classical music meant he was always around the genre even before taking up the sitar. He started his sitar learning under western sitarist Clem Alford and studied with him for 9 years.
“I then studied from Ustad Wajahat Khan and although he is a sarod player he is the one who helped me with my technique. I then returned to the Rampur-Senia Gharana and studied extensively under late Pandit Subroto Roy Chowdhury for many years,” said Jonathan.
He learnt the composition from his father, who had learnt music theory from Melhi Mehta and Indian theory under Sanathan Mukerjee. Being a B.Mus (Hons) from the Birmingham Conservatoire for sitar and composition, his ability to read western notation has helped him perform and compose in variety of genres including jazz, fusion, Indian and symphonic writing. But it is the Indian classical music that catches his fancy.
“The beautiful thing about Indian classical music is it’s fluidity and flexibility. This means one can turn up and play with another musicians without a lot of rehearsal. Which is very different from western classical music.”
“Not only do I play with tabla players, I have also performed with Kathak, Rabrindranath Sangeet exponents and artists such as Anup Jalota,” quipped Jonathan.
The London based sitar player has performed in countries throughout Europe, North America and Asia. He has shared the stage with some of the legends of Indian classical music. One of his memorable performance was at the prestigious The Dover Lane Music Conference in Kolkata.
Indian Music in Foreign Lands
Agreeing to the fact that now there is a higher level of understanding of Indian classical music in the west which has resulted it many concert performances especially in the UK where The Darbar Festival has been a great success.
“Already Indian classical music is becoming a regular concert hall occurrence. I hope the music colleges in the west embrace and continue teaching about the genre. Even if not to perform but perhaps to appreciate and incorporate within their own genres,” asserted Jonathan.
Having recently written a string quartet for 2 x sitars, sarod and sarangi, Jonathan is touring at the moment in the UK. Late this year will see the world premiere of his 2nd sitar concerto. A recording with The BBC National Orchestra of Wales is releasing on his co-owned First Hand Records.
Jonathan does not pick sides while performing. He is equally comfortable with a solo performance as he is in an ensemble.
“No preference!! If the musicians are right then an ensemble and if the rasa is right, solo.”