What piece of art changed your life? How did it affect you?
The pivotal moment for me musically was an all-night concert just outside of
Bangalore in 1994. I was in India performing at the Jazz Yatra Festival
with a student band assembled by Berklee College of Music. At the time (at
the age of 22), I was very confused about my hybrid identity as an
Indian-American and even more confused as to how to address and engage my
ancestry through music. This single concert changed my life. I felt an
unparalleled connection with the music and a bond of cultural ownership. I
realized that I could truly connect with this music and incorporate its
concepts into my larger perspective of jazz as a global art form, an
expression of contemporary multicultural landscapes. I later learned that
the artists I saw that night were some of the true greats of Hindustani and
Carnatic music including Parween Sultana, Chitti Babu, and Vikku Vinayakram.
I went to a record store the next day and bought as many of their albums as
I could carry along with a slew of other CDs and cassettes recommended by
As for non-musical life changing-art, the two pieces that have affected me
most are Richard Serra’s "The Matter of Time" at the Guggenheim Bilbao and
Gaudí's Sagrada Família in Barcelona. Both pieces challenge the viewers
perceptions of space and time on both intellectual and emotional levels. As
a composer, these works have transformed they way I perceive texture,
density, and rhythm, in terms of both permanence and ephemera.
My favorite Rudresh Mahanthappa album is 2008's Kinsmen, a seamless and swinging "East Meets West" hybrid. The 10-minute "Ganesha" seemed to turn up on just about every mixtape I made that year. Since then, the saxophonist's output has been stellar, and his most recent disc, Gamak, incorporates elements of country, ambient, and go-go into the heady mix. This week, Mahanthappa plays D.C., the motherland of go-go, for two nights (April 4 & 5) at Blues Alley.