Growing up, his mother played Carole King and Barbara Streisand albums during the day and his father put on Charlie Parker, George Shearing and Jimmy Smith records at night. “I loved it all,” Jay says. “And, I’d go to bed and hear my dad practicing piano in the background. I was surrounded by great music.” Jay took his first piano lesson at age six and several years later, at age fourteen, told his father he wanted to play the bass, and he’s been playing it ever since.
Jay’s introduction to the sitar was very typical of westerners. He heard Brian Jones play it in the Rolling Stone’s Paint It Black, and the Beatles use of it in Norwegian Wood, Within You Without You, Tomorrow Never Knows and Love You To. Jay became very drawn to the Indian instruments and musical themes that were found in the western jazz and fusion music he listened to regularly.
About ten years ago, Jay and his wife Deepti went to the Met in New York to see the late sitar maestro Ravi Shankar’s daughter Anoushka perform in concert. It was that experience that Jay says, “I knew I wanted to take up that instrument.” Jay made a point to mention that being married to Deepti, who is from India and migrated to the U.S. with her family when she was fifteen, made the pursuit of learning the sitar that much more meaningful. (above excerpt from Reading Chronicle feature)
1 - When did you start playing sitar, Jay?
I got my very first sitar back in 2002 and took lessons from someone that really had no business teaching the instrument, but back then, I had no idea what I was doing or what would qualify someone as a good teacher. I was just thankful there was someone within an hour away that I could go to.
2 - What attracted you to Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan and made you want to learn from him?
I will never forget the first time I saw and listened to Ustadji. At the time, my limited knowledge of sitar players and Indian classical music was Pt. Ravi Shankar and Pt. Nikhil Banerjee. I wanted to find and listen to other sitar players so I searched YouTube for videos. I clicked on a video of Ustadji playing alap in Shyam Kalyan and I was completely blown away.
I then clicked on the other video clips to see the entire performance and was overwhelmed. Everything was so different from what I was familiar with. Some aspects of Ustadji's playing style were so foreign to my untrained ears, at first I wasn't sure I even liked it. But the technical superiority and musical ideas were so compelling that I kept listening and I became hooked, and knew that this is the style of playing I want to learn!
3 - How does Ustadji inspire you to continue?
Ustadji is simply the greatest musician I have ever known. It is still quite surreal to sit in front of him in person or over Skype and study. He imparts incredible wisdom through the instrument and also when he speaks about music, what it requires to learn and improve. He is incredibly patient and giving as a teacher. All of this makes Ustadji a very important and inspirational part of my life.
4 - How different or similar is playing sitar and the bass?
There are some similarities and they helped me initially with sitar but as you progress, there are several aspects that are unique and knowing another instrument can't help! There are also some vast differences. The sitar is much more challenging! I remember the first time I played in front of Ustadji at a workshop. He asked me to play some sargam and a gat I was learning and he said, "What instrument do you play?" He could tell I was already a musician.
5 - How has learning sitar helped you play the bass, if at all?
The Sitar and Ustadji's music has had a tremendous impact on my bass playing. Whether I am playing jazz or pop/rock music, I definitely use the technique and the musical concepts.