With the recent December passing of music legend Ravindra Shankar Chowdhury, better known as Ravi Shankar, the Monroe Center Theater in Hoboken will present a tribute concert on Saturday, March 30. Shankar, dubbed by Beatle George Harrison to be the “godfather of world music” was instrumental in the careers of many, including Harrison and jazz great John Coltrane. Coltrane received lessons from Shankar and even named his son Ravi in his honor.
For these reasons, Shankar is often attributed with helping to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western music. Shankar went on to play at Woodstock. He won three Grammy awards as well as an Oscar for his musical score of the film “Ghandi.”
Musician Nora Jones is also the estranged daughter of Shankar.
Harrison and Shankar
Harrison’s friend David Crosby of the Byrds is said to have introduced Harrison to Indian classical music sitar master Shankar. Harrison later became a student of Shankar’s and bought his own sitar in New Delhi in 1966.
“The sitar is very, very difficult. You don’t just pick it up and play,” said Godfrey Pereira, cultural events director at the Monroe Center. “He was a genius, considering how difficult it is to adapt to a western orchestra. He influenced a lot of heavy hitters.”
According to Wiki, the song “Within You Without You” from the Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was completely Indian-inspired and included no other Beatle member on the track besides Harrison. Shankar was not only a part of the composition of the track, but also helped to inspire the album cover, which included many Eastern gurus.
“He changed the whole mindset of the Beatles.” – Godfrey Pereira
“He changed the whole mindset of the Beatles, where they went to India and meditated. Harrison even converted to Hinduism,” said Pereira.
In 1996, Harrison and Shankar recorded “Chants of India” together, an album Harrison considered one of his most important works filled with Indian mantras.
The Monroe Center concert will feature music from Heritage Arts Academy and Justin Lerner Band. Sitar player Yoshita Chandrani and the Heritage Arts Academy will pay homage to the eastern-influences, focusing on classical Hindustani music and fusion. The Justin Lerner Band will represent the western element featuring songs by George Harrison.
“We wanted to get both sides of the river so to speak,” said Pereira. “That was tough for me. We have a great fusion of East meets West. This is not your average rock and roll band.”
Being born in India and of half-Indian heritage, Pereira was tuned in to Shankar at a very young age. “Of course then I heard George Harrison’s music as soon as I moved to America,” he said. “By influencing the Beatles, Ravi Shankar was able to influence the whole world, because the Beatles influenced the whole world.”
Cultural expansion at Monroe Center
Monroe Center owner Hershy Weiss said Wednesday, “This is part of the larger cultural outreach that we are trying to achieve. It started with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra quartet in October. This is the second classical concert we are doing to be followed up with a jazz festival in June.”
Pereira added, “One of the things that Hershy impressed on me, was that we need to have quality musicians here. Not just ‘Uncle Joe’ playing bass. We hope to carry on getting classical acts like these.”
The Monroe Center concert will be from 6 to 9 p.m. at 720 Monroe St., second floor. Parking is free. Karma, Kafe, 505 Washington St, will be providing free food to the Monroe Center. Tickets for the event are $10 for adults and $5 for children. For more information, call (201) 795-5000.
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.