I never met Ravi Shankar but I loved him dearly like many of my generation. I was one of thousands of people in the West who first listened to Indian music because of him. For me, the great musical discoveries of my late teens were Mahler’s Symphonies, Medieval music, Indian sitar playing and Sgt Pepeer’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They still merge in my mind at times as the sound of the 60s Counter Culture but really they were my coming of age sound tracks.
It is strange that later in my life I should make television programmes and spend some “quality time” with two other great musicians who both spoke of Ravi Shankar with an affection that bordered on love. I spent some time in George Harrison’s London kitchen, the both of us perched on the kitchen unit tops discussing oriental religions and what they meant to him and, in the importance of things, the profound influence of Ravi Shankar. I can still remember the sparkle that came into George Harrison’s eyes during this conversation. I was amazed that, at the end, George apologised and said he hoped he had gone on too much about it all. As if!
I made a number of programmes with the much missed violinist Yehudi Menuhin who made some still famous recordings with the Indian virtuoso. Menuhin was a truly humble man, as was, or so I am told, Ravi Shankar. The meeting of their musical brains was moving and humbling for all of us too. I spoke to Yehudi Menuhin about Ravi Shankar and he said he thought that Shankar was one of the truly great musicians of our time and he then called him, an extraordinary phrase, “the Indian Mozart.”
George and Yehudi shared that mix of celebrity and modesty with firmly held enthusiasms and a lot of personal charm too. They both communicated their love for Ravi Shankar. I may not have met him myself but I like to think that I almost did.
Here is the man himself and then two other recordings – one with Yehudi Menuhin and the other with George Harrison.