Aashish Khan

The Dragon's Den

August 29, 2004


Did Bob Dylan give son Jakob Dylan a guitar lesson? Probably, but we don't know for sure. When Jakob emerged with rock band The Wallflowers in the early '90's, people were drawn to the music because of his last name. Still, it was no sure thing Jakob was gonna be a shining light like his father. Some people even made it their mission to lash out against Jakob for having the audacity to perform with his father's(made-up) name.

Right about now, with The Wallflowers fading out of sight, I bet Jakob Dylan wishes Westerners treated family music tradition as seriously as Indians do. There, styles of playing are attributed to a family line. Each Gharana (musical family) passes down its approach from parent to child, and from guru to student, over hundreds of years. So, there's a better chance in India that the son or student of a master will be a master him or herself.

Ravi Shankar is a master of the sitar. He started as India's most famous musician and became the world's most famous Indian in the '50's and '60's. Shankar is most famous for guiding George Harrison through his sitar education. Shankar studied the sitar under Allaudin Khan, one of the "most important North Indian classical musicians of the 20th century," according to the All Music Guide.

Allaudin's son Ali Akbar Khan took up the sarode, which is a stringed instrument carved from a single piece of wood. It is round with a skin-covered base and a fretless neck. It has 25 metal strings: four are used for playing, while the others provide rhythm and harmonic effects. Akbar Khan has been called "the Indian Johann Sebastian Bach." He recorded the first Western LP of Indian classical music, and he was the first Indian musician to perform on U.S. television.

When I heard Akbar Khan's son Aashish was gonna play at The Dragon's Den Sunday night, I wanted to be there. Aashish studied principally under Allaudin Khansahib, who was also Shankar's teacher. Aashish took up the sarode, like his father.

Last night, Aashish was joined by saxophonist Tim Green, tabla player Andrew McLean, tanpura player Sean Johnson, vibraphonist Jason Marsalis and drum machiner Dan Caro. It was one of a couple preparatory performances that culminated in Aashish's Snug Harbor show on September 11th.

There were numerous serene moments during Aashish's performance. The band locked in with each other and hit a nice groove a few times, but it was like an extended soundcheck. Aashish kept himself out of the mix most of the night, but when he got going, his talent was scary. He moved his fingers in such an effortless, fluid way that I wondered what he was like when he really got going.

The rest of the band did a good job of accompanying Aashish, but they knew it was his show. They looked to him for guidance, and they ended songs when Aashish lifted up his arm. It was only Marsalis who really shone. When he played with two mallets instead of four, his agility and speed was apparent. It was fun and disjointing when Marsalis stuck with the tempo but played half the usual amount of notes.

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