Bringing Together the Worlds of South Indian Music and Jazz

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Cleveland once again is hosting the largest South Indian or Carnatic musical festival held outside of South India.

The Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival- now in its 40th year- attracts thousands of music lovers and musicians for the 12-day event held at Cleveland State University. While this year’s festival concludes Sunday, there is a concert next week that merges the South Indian tradition with jazz.

The performance, which takes place Tuesday at the Bop Stop at the Music Settlement at 7 p.m., is led by area pianist and ethnomusicologist Leo Coach.

Coach’s interest in Indian music was spurred in part by legendary saxophonist John Coltrane’s explorations of Indian music in the 1960s, in particular, the spiritual element of the music.

“Coltrane was very interested in spirituality and expressing that through music. This is something that jazz does share with Indian music,” Coach said.

The concert brings Coach and an American percussionist together with three musicians from South India. Coach said that in addition to the spiritual aspect, there are other areas of common ground between Indian music and jazz, most notably in improvisation.

“There are some ‘through composed’ pieces in South Indian music, but predominantly, there’s a strong emphasis on improvisation,” Coach said.

However, Coach said that there is a big difference between the two styles of music.

“Indian music doesn’t have any harmony. In jazz, when you improvise, you base your improvisation on harmony. They’re more interested in having their improvisation work with the rhythm,” he said.

Coach said that the goal of the musicians giving the concert is “to do justice to both systems, which is tricky business. We feel strongly that both systems really represent their cultures.”

To hear an interview with Coach, be listening Thursday at 12:33 p.m. to Here and Now featuring The Sound of Applause on 90.3.

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