“My father loved the tabla, – says Zakir Hussain – the ancient Indian drum, and he wanted to pass the knowledge onto me: I could connect with my instrument as and when I wanted, rehearse for ten minutes and then go out to play. My father would wait patiently for me to come back and ask him my questions, which he always answered in great detail, getting lost in tales that captivated me, as if they were bedtime stories.” Zakir Hussain acknowledges having had two mentors. The first, the Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, is introduced to him by his father, who held music courses in the United States in the late sixties. “Mickey Hart was studying with my father and asked him to play on his record: my father told him to take me in his place, and this was my gateway to the world of music. Mickey and I entered the recording studio for the first time in 1971. Forty-eight years later, we still work together, and I consider him among my closest friends.” The second mentor is guitarist John McLaughlin. “He wanted to study Indian music, so he showed up at one of my workshops and asked me for information. After a short meeting, we then sat down to play, like two brothers. It felt as if we had rehearsed at least a hundred times before playing. John was thrilled and took me to New York to play with him and a young Indian violinist: Shakti was born, which is still our band.” The rhythmic structure of Indian music, explains Zakir Hussain, is an ancient and scientific system. “We have three hundred and sixty different rhythmic cycles, and each cycle is given its own set of syllables that all Indian percussionists, instrumentalists, singers and dancers must memorize. The syllables come from the language of the tabla, our ancient two-piece drum, and as with any dialect in use in the world, there are grammar rules that regulate written and spoken language. As students, we spend a lot of time learning this language, understanding how to form words, sentences, paragraphs. Each syllable is connected to a designated finger of the right or left hand, and the two hands combine to create complex patterns on one drum or the other.”
Talking of his grandfather, Mr. Roy Haynes, Marcus Gilmore tells: “At ninety-four he still holds concerts at least once a month. I also have two uncles who are musicians, while my father is a saxophonist and my mother had a passion for singing. At nineteen I left for my first tour with Chick Corea, and I have continued to follow him since, even with other bands. He lives in a state of continuous creation – he is seventy-eight years old and is still at the peak of his career.” Gilmore’s approach to percussion was initially instinctive. “I’ve been looking for my style of playing since I touched a drum-kit for the first time. I started to freestyle right away. I can’t define my language, I would say it’s an extension of me. Speaking in technical terms, one word comes to mind: poly – I always want to find new ways of expressing myself using harmonic language. I am fascinated by a wide spectrum of musical scenarios, and it is one of the reasons why I collaborated with so many different musicians. I prefer to work with people who like to improvise: improvisation is the basis of music in African and American culture. Freedom within the structure, this is what I want.”
It was Zakir Hussain who chose Marcus Gilmore as a student. “I see myself in Marcus. Forty-eight years ago I was a volcano of ideas, I was looking for a way to understand the creative processes of rhythm. I needed a mentor to guide me, and two came. Marcus is talented, he is developing a whole new vocabulary of rhythm. The question is: ‘What to do with this information?’ I hope that by virtue of my experience I can guide him in the search for his own voice.” Marcus Gilmore is honored. “I’ve been an admirer of Master Hussain for a long time. My uncle Graham introduced me to Indian music many years ago, when it was more electronic fusion and incorporated tabla. It was Steve Coleman and Vijay Iyer who made me listen to traditional Indian music. It all started with a trip to India, where I studied the musical culture of the place and learned about Zakir’s composition and improvisation process, both for tabla and other instruments.” Is the master pleased with his Student? “Marcus already knows a lot about rhythm, but respect and reverence for this art form come only when you bow to its roots. All I did was bring him to my roots, to the village my ancestors come from. In India, we believe that music is a divine blessing, and I hope this helps Marcus recognize the divinity in his music. He followed many of my courses and learned the Indian improvisation system, interacting with musicians from these parts. In the last few months, the composer who dwells in him has awakened: he has started writing music for percussion and orchestra.” They will start performing in February.
Past Forward 1 / Zakir Hussain, Marcus Gilmore
The two artists are the master and student selected by Rolex for the seventeenth edition of the Mentor & Protégé initiative 2019-20 in the musical category. Zakir Hussain, son of musician Alla Rakha – who Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart referred to as “the Einstein of rhythm,” – was born on March 9th 1951 in Mumbai. He started playing pakhawaj at three years old. After attending St. Michael’s High School in Mahim and St. Xavier in Mumbai, he moved to the USA in the late 1960s, where he began to accompany musicians in performances. Together with McLaughlin and Hart (the other half of Shakti), he recorded Making Music, a milestone in fusion music, in 1987. In 1999 he founded Tabla Beat Science together with Bill Laswell. His is the music of Apocalypse Now (1979) and Little Buddha (1993). In 2016, he was among the musicians invited by President Barack Obama to the International Jazz Day held at the White House. Marcus Gilmore, born on October 10, 1986, is a New York drummer. His grandfather is Roy Haynes, while his uncle is Graham Haynes. Trained at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, at the Juilliard School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, he has been touring since the age of sixteen. His work with pianist Chick Corea has earned him a Latin Grammy Award.
Past Forward 2 / Mickey Hart
“His records are multi-ethnic summits in which cultures from around the world find the human essence they have in common.” This is the definition that the music critic Piero Scaruffi gives of Mickey Hart, short for Michael Steven Hartman: percussionist, drummer and musicologist born in Brooklyn on September 11, 1943. Drummer with California acid rock band the Grateful Dead and active as a soloist, Hart has started a solo career in the name of researching ethnic rhythms and percussion. Passionate about Latin and African rhythms, his interest in world music deepens after making friends with the Indian tablist Zakir Hussain, with whom he collaborated on the Diga album (1976). In 1991, his album Planet Drum received the first Grammy Award for best world music album.
Past Forward 3 / Roy Haynes
Jazz drummer Roy Owen Haynes, born in Roxbury, Boston, on March 13, 1925, began his career in 1945 with Lester Young’s band. Among the most recorded and long-lived drummers of the jazz scene, Roy Haynes explores all the main styles – from the avant-garde bebop, – sometimes also accompanied by soft female voices (like those of Vaughan) and pressing musicians (like Coltrane). Awards for Haynes arrive late: in 1994 he won the Danish Jazzpar Prize; in 2004 he was included in the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 2011 he was awarded a career Grammy Award.
Past Forward 4 / Chick Corea
The pianist and keyboardist Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea, born in Chelsea on June 12th 1941, of Italian origins (province of Catanzaro), has the ability to approach musical instruments by adopting a very personal style – as is the piano so is the keyboard (electronic). He first experimented with the Fender Rhodes, an electric piano invented in the forties by Harold Rhodes. With sixty-three Grammy nominations and twenty-two victories, Chick Corea explores the musical avant-gardes, from bebop to fusion, also writing pieces for children, chamber music and symphonic works.