Ali Akbar Khan
Playing the sarod, a plucked 25-string instrument, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan is one of today's most popular and acclaimed artists from the Hindustani (North Indian) classical-music tradition.
Born in 1922 in what is now Bangladesh, he began his musical studies at age three with his father and guru, Ustad Allauddin Khan of the Maihar gharana (musical school or style). His father, whose mastery of dozens of instruments is legendary, started out training him on a variety of instruments, but eventually decreed that Ali Akbar should concentrate on the sarod and on singing. Along with fellow student Ravi Shankar, who had come to Maihar to study with Allauddin Khan, Ali Akbar and his sister Annapurna, who later wed Ravi, studied under the rigorous and ancient outlines of the guru-shishya parampara, or "teacher-student lineage" tradition.
Ali Akbar Khan gave his first public performance in the city of Allahabad when he was 13, and began recording for the HMV label in his early 20s. Soon he became court musician to the maharajah of Jodhpur. By 1955, he was touring the U.S. at the request of a friend and colleague, the renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and recording both albums and television broadcasts of Indian classical music that sowed the seeds for the explosion of interest in these art forms in the West in the 1960s; indeed, his recording Music of India: Morning & Evening Ragas (Angel), is believed to be the first LP recording of Indian classical music made for a European or American record company. As a composer, Khan wrote extensively for Indian films during this era as well, including Satyajit Ray's 1960 film Devi. He also appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1966 and at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1971.
Khan has done much to disseminate the traditions of Hindustani classical music to students all over the world. In 1956, Khan founded the Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta (now Kolkata). By 1965, he began teaching in the U.S., and in 1967, he established his Ali Akbar College of Music in California; a branch now exists in Switzerland as well. He continues to teach and tour in North America, India and Europe. A recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship from the U.S.'s National Endowment for the Arts, he has also received the prestigious Padma Bhushan Award from the Indian government, and in 1991 was the first Indian musician to win a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant.
An artist with a beautifully understated and refined touch, Ali Akbar Khan has made a number of remarkable recordings over the years; among the noteworthy releases is his brief duet with Ravi Shankar and tabla virtuoso Allarakha (Zakir Hussein's father) on 1971's live recording Concert for Bangla Desh (Capitol); the Signature Series Vol. 1 release on his own AMMP label of the ragas "Chandranandan," "Gauri Manjari" and "Jogiya Kalengra," accompanied by Mahapurush Misra on tabla; and Passing on the Tradition, with tabla master Swapan Chaudhuri, also on AMMP. Anastasia Tsioulcas