Indian Jazz Collaborations

Indian music interests

In the last four years, I have found new directions in my work through my study of Indian music. My interest in Carnatic (South Indian Classical) music dates back to 1996 when I toured India with the Australian Art Orchestra (AAO). We had the extraordinary privilege of collaborating with the virtuoso South Indian mridangam player Guru Karaikudi R. Mani.

Since then I have continued to study Carnatic music and to perform in Australia, India and Europe with many jazz and Indian musicians who share an interest in developing a meaningful fusion of Indian and Western ideas. My study has included ongoing lessons with Sydney based singer and sitar player Sarangan Sriranganathan and a month long study tour to Chennai in January 2009 with the assistance of an Australia Council Skills and Arts Development Grant where I studied with Guru Karaikudi R. Mani and flautist B.V. Balasai. Multi-instrumentalist Adrian Sherriff has been seminal in my interest in this field.

In 2008 Bobby Singh, Ben Walsh and Sarangan Sriranganathan joined myself, Tony Gorman and Steve Elphick in ‘Citizens of Earth’ exploring interfaces between jazz and contemporary improvised music. We performed at The Factory for Places and Spaces in a concert recorded for ABC Radio National and broadcast on Music Deli. We performed at The Gods at ANU with this ensemble in 2009.

In 2010 Sarangan and Bobby joined the Sandy Evans trio to perform at the inaugural Jazz visions festival for SIMA to critical acclaim.

I performed with the AAO and South Indian ensemble Sruthi Laya at the Parramasala Festival, the OzAsia Festival and The Melbourne Recital Centre where one of my compositions, The Sacred Cow’s Tail was featured. A CD “The Chennai Sessions” documenting this collaboration has to been released. This CD was recorded in Chennai in June 2008. This group has also completed 2 tours of India. In 2010 I performed in Adrian Sherriff’s Five Elements in Australia and at the Australian High Commission in Delhi for the launch of the Parramasala Festival.

In 2011 The Sandy Evans Indian Project performed at Camelot, at the Sound Lounge for SIMA, and in a live broadcast for Sunday Live on ABC Classic FM.

This is an ongoing project featuring Bobby Singh and Sarangan Sriranganathan with jazz musicians Brett Hirst and Toby Hall. This groupd will be releasing a CD in the next year and is available for concerts and Festivals.

I am currently undertaking a PhD at Macquarie University researching the fusion of jazz and Carnatic music. A CD “Cosmic Waves” was recorded at the University with Sruthi laya and Guest musicians Alister Spence, James Greening and Brett Hirst. “Cosmic Waves” will be released soon.

This article published in the current edition of the University Research magazine Quest gives some background about my research.

‘Rhythm Nations’ by Caroline Jenkins . Quest (Macquarie University Research Magazine)

She won’t go so far as to say it is spiritual, but for Sandy Evans OAM, music unites the mind, body and soul. The eminent musician is now melding the rhythms of southern India with Western jazz, and through improvisation, searching for deeper intercultural dialogue.

“When music is really working well it can transcend everyday experiences. You can express deep emotions, and it can affect us very very deeply.”

Sandy Evans could read music before she could read words. The leading saxophonist – tenor and soprano – has written and played jazz professionally for more than 30 years, and currently leads several groups including the Sandy Evans Trio and GEST8.

With multiple awards to her name, including three ARIAs and the Bell Award for Australian Jazz Artist of the Year, Evans is now focused on improvisation and fusion between cultures. Her work earned her an Order of Australia Medal last year.

Since meeting mridangam player Guru Karaikudi Mani in 1996 through his disciple Adrian Sherriff, the Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) scholarship holder has been intrigued with the possibilities associated with blending jazz and Carnatic music of southern India.

“Both are so deep, it takes a lot of commitment to speak interculturally,” says Evans who is researching the fusion of these two musical systems for her Masters: Carnatic Jazz Intercultural Music in Australia.

“Guru Mani believes Carnatic music can offer jazz musicians skills in rhythmic development. I want to know how I, as a jazz musician, can use some of the extraordinary techniques from Carnatic music to develop greater skill and control, and ultimately, freedom of expression as an improvising musician.”

Evans is working with Sruthi Laya, four musicians from Chennai led by Guru Mani, on her latest CD Cosmic Waves, which comprises 50 per cent of her Masters assessment.

“What they’ve played is quite mind-blowing,” says the modest Evans who used the ocean as an inspirational link between the two countries when composing the music for this recording.

Last year the two percussionists, (Guru Mani: mridangam and V.Suresh: ghatam) flautist (B.V. Balasai) and electric mandolin player (U.P Raju) played with Evans and the Australian Art Orchestra at Parramasala, the inaugural cultural festival in Parramatta, before recording for Evans at the Macquarie University studios.

“The Indians have a fantastic way of articulating rhythm using vocal syllables (konnokal) while keeping the beat with their hands. Rhythms are organised according to a system called tala. They have at least 135 combinations of tala.” Their melodic system, based on raga, is highly sophisticated, she says, with some ragas evoking a mood for a specific time of day or even being able to produce rain.

“I’m am striving to develop a deeper understanding of the essence of the Carnatic musical system to create new music that respects the depth and beauty of both jazz and Carnatic music.”

Evans likens the complexity of Carnatic music to mathematical equations: “Carnatic musicians are absolutely staggering with their virtuosity – it seems to be a facility within the culture to be able to compute complicated equations spontaneously. That doesn’t happen in quite the same way in jazz, although a lot of rhythmic innovation is taking place in jazz at the moment.”

“Indian musicians in general have a phenomenal command of rhythm and of course jazz musicians are incredibly interested in rhythm too.”

She is also interested in using music to unite.

“I’m hoping that through my research I can find some principles for intercultural music making especially among improvisers. Musicians now have access to pretty much every musical culture on the planet. At festivals, musicians start jamming and get excited by the different systems, but it can be very hard to go beyond the initial meeting and find deeper ways to allow intercultural dialogue to occur.”

Tenor and soprano saxophone, composer