Saxophonist, Composer, Educator, Music Researcher

Since the recording of Bridge of Dreams has been released, I’ve been asked a number of questions about the project, the music and the lyrics. I decided to write some answers to frequently asked questions.

Like many musicians before me, I am entranced and excited by the possibilities of exploring links between jazz and Indian musical traditions. My main (very rudimentary) formal training in Indian classical music has been in South Indian music with mridangam maestro Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani in Chennai and wonderful vocalist/sitar player Sarangan Sriranganathan in Sydney. This experience helped me understand certain things about raga and tala that definitely helped in this collaboration, but my musical contribution to Bridge of Dreams is more from my perspective as a jazz musician.

I have been friends with Hindustani tabla player Bobby Singh for many years and have had many wonderful opportunities to play with him. During tours of Ben Walsh’s ‘Fearless Nadia’ with Bobby in Australia and India in 2012 and 2013, I got to know and work with Aneesh Pradhan and Sudhir Nayak. I discovered that we all shared a passion for deepening the exchange of ideas between jazz musicians and Indian musicians. Whenever we had a spare moment we would meet in one of our hotel rooms to play music to each other and discuss creative ideas. This was very inspiring.

I was lucky to visit Mumbai in 2014 on a Churchill Fellowship and undertake an exploratory creative development period with Aneesh and leading Hindustani singer Shubha Mudgal. We loved this experience and hoped to collaborate on a project at some future time. That was the genesis for this project. Shubha and Aneesh are extremely accomplished, experienced and versatile performers and composers. Shubha is a renowned singer and composer in a number of genres including khayal and thumri, as well as Indian pop and fusion. Aneesh is an acclaimed practitioner of Hindustani music, having studied with illustrious tabla maestro Nikhil Ghosh. He is also Bobby’s guru.

Another group of musicians I hold in very high regard, and have had the privilege to work with are Sirens Big Band, led by double bass player Jessica Dunn. Several years ago, I was very pleased when Jess asked me if I would be interested in composing a major work for them. So many things about the Sirens’ philosophy and worldview reminded me of Shubha and Aneesh’s. I began to imagine how incredible it would be to combine Shubha’s extraordinary voice, Aneesh’s incredible tabla playing and Sudhir’s virtuosic harmonium playing with the Sirens’ glorious big band sound. We discussed a number of ideas, and I suggested this collaboration with Aneesh and Shubha. It was a hugely ambitious project to undertake, but Jess and the band enthusiastically accepted the challenge and we have been very working hard on it for several years now.

Shubha sings in a number of different languages in this project.

The lyrics for ‘Arms of Imagination’ are from a poem in Urdu by a contemporary poet, Gauhar Raza, who is based in Delhi.

‘Dharti Ke Darbar’ is a traditional text in a mixture of Hindi and Braj bhasha.

The lyrics for ‘Joyous Rain’ are in Urdu and were written by a 19th century poet Upadhyaya Badri Narayan Chaudhari. (Shubha has used only a single couplet from a much longer poem in this song.)

The lyrics for ‘Ya Kareem’ and ‘Deepening of the Red Sun’ are by the 15th Indian mystic poet, Kabirdas. His writings have influenced Hinduism’s Bhakti movement (among others).

Kabir wrote in a mixture of many old dialects of Hindi and that is why his language is referred to as khichdi (a mixture) or sadhukkadi –  the informal, mixed language used by wandering sadhus.

Shubha explains why she is drawn to his texts:

‘For me, what is important is that many of his verses are relevant even today. His fearless denouncing of communal violence and disharmony, his protest against the orthodoxy of religious rituals, and his overarching message of peace is as relevant today as it must have been centuries ago’.

There are no lyrics for ‘Beam, Arch, Suspension’. The vocables used in this piece are typical of a ‘tarana’.

‘Aji Jaaiye’ and ‘Imagining and Longing’ are in Hindi.

The recitation that Aneesh and Bobby do in ‘Tabla Spiral’ is called Padhant and is a vocalisation of the bols (or strokes) used in tabla playing. They always learn to say what they play.

Most of the vocal melodies in Bridge of Dreams are derived from ragas, but I’m not sure Shubha would class them as ragas in the Hindustani classical sense. Nevertheless, there is a strong influence of raga in the vocal melodies and in the harmonium solos.

e.g. ‘Arms of Imagination’ is in a raga called Jog which has both a major and a minor 3rd. Shubha describes ‘Ya Kareem’ as having shades of the raga Abhogi.

‘Joyous Rain’ is mostly in raga Yaman (similar to the Lydian mode).

The vocal and harmonium sections in ‘Beam, Arch, Suspension’ are in the raga ‘Patdeep’.

‘Aji Jaaiye’ is in the raga Kirawani.

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