I was born in Yorkshire, England on January
4, 1942. I think that makes me a Capricorn. Fortunately, I was born into a family of
musicians. So there was encouragement as far as music was concerned, especially since I
was the youngest of five children. In fact, I have three older brothers and an older
sister and I owe a great deal to each of them. My brothers really helped in developing a
musical awareness at an early age.
But basically it started before I was aware
that something was going on. I remember when I was about seven or eight, one of my
brothers, an avid classical music listener, tuning into the BBC a lot. One night I heard
something that was very beautiful which impressed me. We got a gramophone about that time,
too, which was quite a rarity. Another distinct memory was listening to Beethoven's Ninth
Symphony. It made my hair stand on end.
Any particular movement?
It was the quartet at the end. I was aware of
the effect it was having on me. The fact that something could have such an impact on me
was very profound in my youthful mind. So when I was nine, I asked if I could start
studying piano which I did for about three years.
What was the nature of your
studies at that point?
Just the usual basic stuff. But when I was
about 11 my brothers, who were then in high school and the university, were sort of into
this blues thing which hit England about 30 years ago. One of them even got a guitar. So I
was exposed directly from about 11 onwards to the music of Muddy Waters, Leadbelly and
Did the music grab vou
Exactly, it grabbed me right away. In a way,
it's impossible to speak about music. How can you talk about something that is beyond
words? But I can say that it had a tremendous gravity for me. Also, there was a guitar in
the house that had come down through the family and finally arrived at me. One brother
taught me some chords, which was a revelation to my mind. I felt it was my instrument.
So Chicago blues was the
first essential influence?
Yes, I would say so. At the time, though, I
didn't know it was Chicago blues. I thought it was more Mississippi delta, especially
Back then he was playing with Little Walter,
and playing in a very different way than he does now. I still think back to him with great
Another influence, again thanks to my
brothers, was flamenco music, which had an equally powerful effect on me. There was a
sense of freedom like that in blues and jazz. There was also improvisation. And there was
a passion that hit a certain spot in me. That was when I was about 13.
So I got involved in flamenco, and classical
Spanish music as well. Mv piano became sort of neglected. After a year of flamenco music,
when I was 14, I heard Django Reinhardt. That really turned my head around. I became a
great fan of Django's and developed a linear approach to the guitar which was really
Also, Django was playing with Stephane
Grappelli. My mother was a violinist, so there was this thing about the violin that
touched me. As a result, I think the combination of guitar and violin effected me in a way
that maybe wasn't realized until many years later on.
How passionate was your
commitment to music at this time?
From the time my hair stood on end, music was
it. Nothing else did that to me. It's not like I said, "Oh, that's it, I'm going to
be a musician." Rather it was a situation where music made everything else kind of
pale in comparison. So I didn't really think of anything else seriously. But at 11 or 12
you don't say, "Yeah, I'm going to be this or that." At that age you live in a
My daydream world was immersed to the core in
music. I used to spend all my time listening to records.
Finally when I found the Voice Of America
coming from Frankfurt with Willis Conover through the static, I discovered American jazz.
After Django, I was starting to play and I
was using my fingernails to pick. I also picked with the little finger because of my
studies in classical Spanish and flamenco music. But, it wasn't working. So finally, when
I was about 14 or 15, I picked up the pick and tried to work with it. Then I heard Tal
I was walking by a record store in the city
near where I was living, which was just south of Scotland on the northeast coast of
England. I heard a record with a guitar player. I couldn't believe him. He just knocked
down my socks. I ran in to find out who was making this incredible music. It was Tal
Farlow. So Tal Farlow became my real hero. His harmonic concept, even now, I think is
stunning. He was quite a revolutionary on guitar. It's unfortunate that he kind of dropped
out. Actually, I had the fortune of meeting him once at the Newport Jazz Festival when I
was playing with Tony Williams. Just to see him was a thrill.
But as it developed, several of us discovered
through our research that there were two schools of music going on. I'm talking about the
'50s. There was a West Coast school and an East Coast school. And, really, one was white
and one was black. The East Coast was the hard hop school and that was what we subscribed
to. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers became the big thing for me. I also heard the Birth
Of The Cool recordings with Miles, you know, and that was part of the hard bop era.
One day I was fortunate enough to hear
Milestones with the revolutionary group that Miles had in the late '50s. He just turned my
head around because of the simplicity of the concept and its beauty. Of course, the
musicians that he had, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, were superb. But, really, it
was the concept of the rhythm section that in itself was a revolution to me.
Could you specify what it was
about the rhythm section that made it so unique?
If you go back in time you find that the
drummers were swinging, but it was a more traditional kind of swinging. With Philly Joe's
beat, instead of going "chung-chunka, chung-chunka," it went "ting-ting,
ting-ting." It was less but more intense. If you listen to those recordings you'll
understand what I'm trying to say. Another factor was the way Red Garland was playing
suspensions. That helped open the thing out. Then, of course, there was Miles and the
whole modal concept. I can't say enough about what Miles has done for music.
That's not to say there weren't other major
figures, because Charlie Parker was also a hero, but in a different sense. For me, he was
still part of the old school. I was looking for the new school.
Another man who had an amazing influence on
me was Charles Mingus. He had a revolutionary concept too. There were also strong social
and political dimensions in his music which I liked. With Dannie Richmond's drumming it
was musically very strong. And Mingus, like Miles, introduced a great many brilliant
musicians to the public. Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphy and Ted Curson all played with him.
Mingus was a very important influence on the shape of my development.
Then, Miles' Kind Of Blue came out, which I
think is still a classic album. The people in Miles' group were, of course, also major
influences. So when that group broke up, I followed them individually. Coltrane left to
join Monk and then establish his own group. Cannonball left and formed his own group with
his brother Nat. This would be the '60s now.
Then A Love Supreme came out, which I
couldn't understand the first time I heard it. Of course, knowing Coltrane's work with
Miles, seeing his name on the jacket, I knew it had to be great whatever it was. But when
I got A Love Supreme I couldn't really hear it. Too high for me, I guess. I couldn't grasp
this very rarefied concept that Trane had managed to conceive. But I was able to perceive
Miles' influence on Trane, especially in Giant Steps, which came out before A Love
Giant Steps was another record I had
difficulty really grasping. Again a little bit too advanced for me. The beautiful thing
about Miles was that although he was playing that stuff, he had such a directness that I
was able to tune into it and understand what he was doing. So Giant Steps came, with
Trane's devastating technique. But I could't grasp it. Then A Love Supreme came out, and I
couldn't grasp it. Then about in 1964, there was the album Miles Davis At Carnegie Hall
with Miles, George Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. When I heard
Tony Williams, that was it. The guy was unbelievable.
So I was following Miles all the way along,
through every phase. Then there was A Love Supreme, which was like Dolphy. I couldn't hear
Dolphy the first time. He was too much for my tiny mind, you know. But I pursued it and
finally it just dawned. Then Coltrane made sense to me. At this time I was about 20 or 21
and it was about 1962 or 1963.
By 1964, I'd been working with all kinds of
blues and jazz groups. One of the groups I was involved in was the Graham Bond
Organization, with Ginger Baker and Graham Bond, God rest his soul. Although we didn't
work very long together, Graham had quite an influence on my life.
I was raised without any religious
instruction apart from the dust they serve you up at school. I won't say that it's that
way for everyone because I'm sure there are some enlightened teachers in the schools. But
for me, the dust was just pushed down my throat and didn't mean anything. And my parents
didn't do anything.
By the time I was about 19 or 20, I'd taken
some acid. And I'd been getting high for quite a while, you know, just smoking regular old
marijuana. Graham, however, opened up my eyes to a side of myself I was unaware of. I
started thinking about possibilities for myself, what my own potential was.
Then the album of Trane's came along. I
couldn't hear the music but I read the back cover. I will always read that back cover.
It's a statement by a great noble human being.
So things were happening on the inside of my
life, a beginning of an awareness that there was something missing. I remember being very
young and living in a state of magicalness, insofar as I knew there was something magical
about life, though I didn't know what it was. But I knew that it was there, and that it
was something that connected everybody together. So when this sort of stuff came round I
realized I had to do something. So I joined the Theosophical Society in London and made an
attempt to discover what religion really means, and what religions mean in the comparative
Graham had an influence on me because he had
gotten involved in the occult. We used to talk about all kinds of things. He suggested a
number of books about things I didn't really understand. So I started reading these books
of a more esoteric nature and going to the Theosophical Society, which in itself was very
boring. You know, there were all these ladies coming to speak, but I can't even remember
one thing they spoke about. But, they had a fantastic library, books that you don't find
in a regular library. So the library was quite a source of information.
I got involved and finally discovered India,
which I had never thought about seriously. All I knew was that it was over 12,000 miles
away. So I was exposed for the first time to the tenets of Eastern philosophy and was
stimulated to think about the possibilities latent in man. There was also a book with
concentration exercises. So I started learning a lot of superficial information. But it
was encouraging and fertilizing to the ideas that I already had inside of me. I also
started to do some yoga exercises, you know, breathing exercises and trying to do
something about my body. In fact, just the process of concentrated relaxation is a very
As this went on, I was having different
problems in my musical life. I was working with this group and that group. I was really
into r&b, which was the Mingus thing because he's really r&b to me. Blues and
roots, but so vital. But I'd listen to anybody. For me, the jazz music coming from New
York was the art.
As time passed by I was exposed to Indian
music through being involved with the culture. Again, it was something I couldn't hear. I
couldn't grasp it. But there was something about it. In particular, there was a sitar. As
I remember, I think it was Ravi Shankar. The sitar was significant because it was a
Also, for a long time I'd been disenchanted
with the guitar as far as jazz music was concerned because I didn't feel anyone was
approaching the height and inspiration of Miles and Coltrane. This was my own personal
feeling. I don't know what it was, but guitar players didn't have it. Of course, Wes
Montgomery was great. I loved his music when I first heard him. But when I pursued it
further, I couldn't get out of it what I wanted, what Coltrane and Miles gave me.
So I realized there was something in Indian
music and that it was important for me to know what was going on. I pursued it and I
Iistened to it. Finally I heard it, and it had a very devastating effect on me. It's
absolutely phenomenal, the music of India. There was the vina, an ancestor of the sitar
which is from south India. There was also a north Indian vina. So I finally discovered the
two schools of Indian music by the time I left Europe to come to America.
Before the move, David Holland and I had
shared a flat together in London. We had even played together. When he joined Miles, which
was a coup for an Englishman, we were thrilled to bits.
I'd also done some studio work and
television, but it was devastating working with a free group. It was somewhat anarchistic
but at least I was free. I was living in pretty abject poverty in the bargain. But you
don't mind if you're playing the music.
Once Dave and I were playing together and did
a jam with Jack DeJohnette, who had come into town with Bill Evans. We played with just a
trio-guitar, bass and drums. For the first time I was playing with a real drummer. That's
not to knock the English drummers. They're great drummers. But what I mean is that Jack is
someone who had grown up in the jazz tradition. He's a great drummer. So it was a thrill
for me. And Dave was playing. Dave, of course, is a great player. So we played. What I
didn't know was that Jack had recorded it.
Later, after Jack had returned to America, he
saw Tony Williams and played the tape for Tony. Tony had also spoken to Dave about me
because they were both with Miles together. So, Tony called me in November, 1968, and
said, "I'm thinking about forming a group." I said, "When you're ready, you
just call." It took some time to get it together. But by early February, 1969, I got
After I got to America, everything broke for
me. My life's really blessed, I feel, because I walked into a situation where I met all my
heroes. Two days after I arrived, I was in the studio with Miles, which was beyond my
wildest dreams. And I felt at home. The crowning point in my career was to go into Harlem
and play in Harlem. Because Harlem, for Europeans, is the home of jazz music. It's the
source. So to play in Harlem was a high that I've never really come down from. And Tony
was still with Miles, which was lucky for me because that's how I met Miles.
By the time I got here I was thinking more
seriously about what's real in life, what's the purpose. Of course, there's also a purpose
in music. I mean that music has no "message." It is the message. But to discover
that is something. Growing up with a European background, you grow up with these
intellectual conceptions and misconceptions which can really throw you.
What are your feelings at
this time about the meaning of music?
Ahèconfused. The thing about music was that
I loved it. But it took me years to discover that real concentration is perfect love.
Because love is effortless. Concentration is, in a sense, an intellectual conception.
Therefore, it cannot be whole. Love, however, is perfect concentration and whole because
it involves the whole inner being. These are, of course, just philosophical propositions.
But these are the things I was involved in, you know, in the process of trying to find
I'd made my first album before I came here.
It hadn't even come out when I left. That was Extrapolation for the defunct Marmalade
label. In fact, Dave was supposed to be on that. But when he got the call to go with
Miles, everyone wished him bon voyage.
Meanwhile, back in the States, I was working
with Miles and Tony. It was the best of all worlds. In fact, Miles asked me to join his
group permanently. But by this time, Lifetime with Larry Young was underway. I thought
that Larry was the greatest organ player in the world. I remember his album with Woody
Shaw, Joe Henderson and Elvin Jones, Unity. Marvelous album. So here was my favorite
organist with my favorite drummer. I was in the perfect set-up. We were making pennies,
but I felt it to be a part of my destiny.
The most unexpected thing in my life was for
me to turn Miles down because Miles was my idol. I'd been listening to Miles since I was
15. I was 27 when I got to America, so I had been into his music for 12 years. I knew the
man so intimately and loved him and admired him, and here he was asking me to play in his
group, and I had to say no. That was something for me, but it made me very much aware of
what I was involved in with Lifetime.
Lifetime was a musical thing that I realized
was helping me into my own. I stayed with Lifetime, a decision I haven't regretted for a
second. With Lifetime it was possible for me to really make a compositional contribution
which I don't think I would have had as much of with Miles. It would have been more
directed. And he'd been directing me for 12 years already. Not that I didn't like his
direction. He's such a marvelous man.
As Lifetime developed, I began to realize the
influence of New York. It's an amazing city because it either makes you or breaks you.
There's a very strong jazz feeling here. In Europe there's a completely different attitude
and way of life. I also realized that I had so much to do in music to develop myself. So I
started getting more and more into yoga and trying to tune myself. And I was exposed to
the writings of Hazrat lnayat Khan. Every musician should read the second volume of The
Sufi Message Books, which deals with music and is called The Mysticism Of Sound, Music,
The Power Of The Word, And The Cosmic Language. It's a masterpiece of enlightenment as far
as music is concerned, in my opinion. I was also getting very much more involved in
meditation. I meditated with various yogis. Then I met Sri Chinmoy and within a week
became a disciple of his.
When was that?
We're talking about the spring of 1970. In
the meantime, Lifetime had existed for a year as a trio. Then Jack Bruce came into town
for a gig. We spoke on the phone and I asked him to come down to the session because
Lifetime was making a record. He came down and he thought it was the world's greatest
band. That was my opinion also. Anyway, he played and tried to fit in. We were a very
tight trio. We'd been working together for a year. So bass guitar was hard to fit in. But
Jack fit, and Tony asked him to join the group. He did and we stayed together another year
and the music was phenomenal.
However, there were some bad things going
down with Tony's management. I was being pressured to sign with them and I didn't like it.
And then there was the way they were handling Lifetime. I think Lifetime could have been
out there, especially with names like Tony Williams and Jack Bruce. I mean, at the time,
nobody knew Larry and me. With Jack and Tony we had some weight. But they were sending us
to high school gyms and ridiculously obscure dates. Just absurd. I didn't like the
attitude they had towards Tony and the group and resented their pressure to sign me.
I talked to Miles about it because I was
worried and he said, "John, if you want to make some money, go and see Nat
Weiss." Those were his very words. He gave me his number so I called and went to see
him. I had a very good rapport with Nat immediately. He said, "I'd like to manage
you." And I said, "I'd really like you to manage me." So that was that. But
there was a terrible scene with Tony's management. They were very abusive to me. And then
there was this bad deal about the record.
What bad deal?
The record that Lifetime was going to make of
the music we'd been doing for about a year with Jack Bruce. Jack was singing and the
material was very new. It was revolutionary and just incredible but there was such a bad
scene going down between the management and the band that the recording never got made.
It's a shame. That group was one of the greatest in the world. I mean I wouldn't have hung
in for so long if I didn't believe it. Anyway, I finally had to leave because it was so
weird and the album never happened. It's really tragic.
So I did some dates with Miles. We were
talking one night and he said, "John, you have to form your own band." So I
started thinking about it then, you know, seriously. I made an album called My Goal's
Beyond, where I had the chance to meet Jerry Goodman and Billy Cobham. It wasn't exactly
what you'd call a Mahavishnu context. What I wanted to do was make an acoustic record. On
one side there was Charlie Haden, Badal Roy, Dave Liebman, Jerry, Billy, and me on
acoustic guitar. We played two pieces. On the other side I played a lot of standard tunes
that were almost like etudes for the guitar. I really like that album.
So the session gave me a chance to sound
Jerry and Billy out about this new band that I had in mind. Later I was talking to
Miroslav Vitous and he said, "Listen man, if you're looking for a piano player, call
this guy in California who's with Sarah Vaughan. His name is Jan Hammer." And so I
did. He was very far out, and as vou can see, he's still rockin' and rollin'. But, he
wouldn't play with me on my new album.
Because I'm too associated with jazz. It
might taint his rock image. It sounds ironic, but it's absolutely true. It's a total
absurdity because as soon as he puts his hand on the keyboard, you hear all that stuff
coming out. But anyway, that's just in passing.
So the band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, got
together, and it took off, as they say. Became very big. But there was a lot of tension
because I was a disciple of Sri Chinmoy. I have very definite ideas about development.
Maybe they found it too hard, too demanding, but I demand as much from myself as I do from
anybody. I don't know. Maybe the tension was there because I wasn't hanging out with the
boys, as it were, and goofing off
My life and music are serious. You know, I
don't like to take myself too seriously because you become a parody. But music is serious
and life is serious. This is just what I feel. One cannot live in one's own little world
and ignore what's happening on the rest of the planet. It's serious to me.
It's also Iight. I mean, you've got to have
humor everywhere, including music. But anyway, there was too much tension. It erupted, in
part, because we were very successful. Having success is probably the most difficult
thing. People got involved in their little things to the point where the attitude on stage
was the opposite of what it should have been for making music.
Were people taking
superstardom too seriously?
I guess so. I've got nothing against ego
because ego, that's you. It's a very complicated point. But let's say the other side of
human nature, which is not the nicest side, started coming out. We all have our unpleasant
sides, you know. It's nature. But music is about love. Musicians are talking about love
really. So when the nastier side of human nature starts up, the music becomes negative.
The negative side can work only briefly. You
can make some great music out of negativity, but only for a very limited time. So this
thing started to happen and I realized that it was the opposite of what the music needed
and what I needed. You can get angry on the stage and scream through your instrument which
can be nice. It's very much needed for a lot of people, but you cannot just keep doing
that. You have to have the other side as well, in any relationship. So I realized the love
affair was over, and it was a shame. But there's no point in continuing something that you
know to be wrong.
Then along came Mahavishnu Two, which was
liked by many but not as liked probably by an even greater number. And I was getting more
involved in Western classical music again. Cycles have a peculiar way of reoccurring as
time goes by. I recorded Apocalypse with Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony
Orchestra, which was a marvelous experience. Then I had a group with a string quartet, and
quite a few other pieces which over a period of a couple years got whittled down. I guess
I was entering a different phase. It became necessary for me to play and solo in an
extended way. And so finally the group was reduced to a quartet. But it still wasn't
right. In the meantime Shakti was cooking underground.
Actually we had known each other for several
years. During all this time I'd been studying vina at Wesleyan University. I was working
with one of the resident teachers there and getting deeper and deeper into Indian music
which is really the ultimate in extended soloing. It's quite similar to what John Coltrane
did. Anyway, I was in Connecticut one day and met a percussionist who was playing with my
vina teacher. That was in 1973. He was Shankar's uncle. So this percussionist said,
"You must meet my nephew. He's a wonderful violinist." I said, "I'd love
to." So he brought Shankar around to my house and we just sat down and played. We
almost composed a piece right then and there. The rapport was incredible.
A similar thing had happened with Zakir
Hussein. It was in 1971 when the original Mahavishnu Orchestra did a benefit concert at
the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. Clive Davis, who was then president of
Columbia Records, said I could name my own beneficiary. I said fine, so we did it for the
Ali Akbar Khan School of Music in California. The next night we were up in San Francisco
and Ali Akbar Khan invited me to dinner. I arrived with a guitar. Zakir, who is the son of
the great Alla Rakha, arrived there with a tabla. So we sat down before dinner and played
for Ali Akbar Khan. We'd never played together but we played this thing where the rhythm
was a cycle of 7. It was unbelievable. There was a fantastic rapport with Zakir. He's a
phenomenal musician, so quick and intelligent.
Later, when this happened with Shankar, I
asked him if he knew Zakir, since the same thing had happened with the two of us. He said,
"Of course I know him. He's a well known person." So I said we should really get
together and just play because if what happens between myself and each of you happens
between the two of you it's going to be incredible. So Raghavan, who is Shankar's uncle,
came on mridangam, which is a south Indian drum. We made some studio music, one side of an
LP which was supposed to come out on a double album. However, Columbia asked me not to do
it. They said people will find it confusing. So we passed that up. Maybe it was a blessing
in disguise because we put a live album out later which I thought was great.
Anyway, we started doing little underground
concerts at churches, community centers, places like that. We did one thing on TV. Then we
had a concert coming up out at South Hampton College. I had a premonition about it and
called Columbia and said you've got to get an eight-track machine out there. I told them
it was going to be a great concert. I just knew it. So they did. It was recorded but it
sat on the shelf quite a while because I was making my final album with Mahavishnu which
was Inner Worlds. After Inner Worlds, the group didn't have enough cohesion and I myself
had other things on my mind since Shakti was becoming more important to me. So finally
after making Inner Worlds, I said I have to go with Shakti, in spite of popular opinion.
So basically that's the story, except that in 1975 I had a disruption in my personal life.
I'm not what you'd call an active disciple of Sri Chinmoy except that I have a very deep
love for him. ln fact I saw him three days ago. He had a meditation at the United Nations.
As far as my feelings are concerned, I need the grace of God as much now as I did then, if
not more. I continue to pray and meditate for direction and inspiration and strength. I
guess the break was a matter of my assuming total responsibility for my own actions.
I got to the point where I was in such an
artistic and spiritual upheaval that I had to sever every tie I had to everything. I
didn't play for many months. It was almost a year. And then Shakti came out and met with a
thunderous burst of indifference.
In part, I think the record companies fail to
understand the overall situation. I think the listening public is grossly patronized and
underestimated. It's really an awful state of affairs. Shakti was handled in a commercial
context like everything is in America, where the basic question is "Will it
sell?" If it had been taken in an artistic context, which is the only relevant
context you can take music in, the approach might have been, "Listen, we have
something here that is original and is happening. We have to look at it from a different
point of view." It's our responsibility if we care about music to make people aware
of what this group is and what it's doing, instead of just trying to sell it like a rock
band. In fact, the record companies fail to understand that people get tremendous
enjoyment from discovering something that they didn't know before. Even if it's just about
the rhythm, the way the rhythm is counted, they want to understand. People want to know
what's happening. But they are consistently patronized.
Even down beat is tainted with this awful
attitude. It's missing the entire point that the music is the music is the music. It
doesn't matter what color you are or what you're playing. If you're playing music, that's
the beautiful thing, that it's just music. But it should be available to anybody and
helped on its way. With the media you get the contrary, you get suppression. There's a
suppression that exists in the media that is compounded by the capitalistic attitude of
It doesn't have to be the way it is. Maybe
I'm being a little hard, but I think I'm being pretty accurate. Anyway, there are some
good people around and a company is only as good as its people. One man can change a whole
magazine. One man could change a record company. One man can change a radio station. Two
men can do miracles. And 100 men could change the world, if you know what I mean. But
anyway, that's another story. Probably the same one, part of the same story, and the world
needs it. God does the world need it.
Do these factors ever cause
you to doubt your direction?
To the contrary. It's not that Shakti has
been rejected, rather that there's been just an overwhelming indifference. That appalls
me. I'd rather be abused than be treated with indifference. I've been in groups that have
been booed off stage because of the music I was playing. But I don't mind that, because
that makes you aware of really where you are at in yourself and what you are doing, and
you either stop what you're doing or it makes you stronger. To be criticized by a foot is
the highest compliment anyway. So it helps you keep perspective.
What directions have evolved
because of Shakti?
The directions are articulated as accurately
as possible on the records. I couldn't even speak about it except to say that Shakti, and
my great love of Indian culture and music, helped me pursue my researches into the
different aspects of the theoretical side. Also, I think I was very fortunate to have had
some theory lessons from Ravi Shankar, and from other master players.
But over the years, especially over the last
year, I've felt my own jazz roots bubbling inside of me. You can sense this in the last
Shakti album. Not only that, Shankar, who is probably one of the most extraordinary
violinists around, also has quite a desire for theoretical and practical knowledge of jazz
music. In jazz music and Indian music you have one big common denominator and that's
improvisation. In fact, when you listen to the modal approach of Coltrane and of Miles
you're dealing with a scalar and a linear approach to music which is precisely like Indian
I've been teaching Shankar jazz harmony and
ways of perceiving moving harmonic progressions, and he's been teaching me the theory and
practice of melody and rhythm which are the essences of Indian music. Last summer all my
roots came bubbling up inside me, so I was carrying around a tape machine with Coltrane
and Miles. I just wanted to listen to Coltrane and Miles all the time. And Don Cherry too,
who has made some wonderful albums.
So I had all this flying around inside my
system. The time was right because my contract was running out with Columbia. They said,
"We'd really like you to make some electric albums." And I said, "You know,
this thing is happening in me that I'd really like to make some electric albums because
the one thing with Shakti that I miss is the jazz element."