My string band The Scragg Family was appearing at Ed Pearl’s club The Ash Grove in Hollywood for the second time in early 1964. Ed and Kate put me up at their house for the week, as often happened. It was a Wednesday or Thursday morning when Ed asked me what I was up to that day. When I told him I was uncertain as to my movements, he suggested “Why not come along and meet Ravi Shankar?”. “Ravi who ?” I replied.
So we boarded Kate’s old green Mercedes convertible and drove off to a Hollywood hotel. Ed explained that he was promoting a show by Ravi at the Santa Monica Civic that Saturday, and was going to drive Ravi and his tabla player, Alla Rakha, around to various radio stations for interviews to promote the show. We pulled up outside a hotel on Sunset Boulevard, and out walked a small thin Indian man with a somewhat stouter friend. Both, I think, were wearing what are called Nehru jackets. Ravi placed his palms together and bowed when we were introduced . . . I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but told him I was very pleased to meet him and get a chance to learn about Indian music.
So we piled into the Mercedes’ back seat, Ravi insisting that I sit between him and Alla Rakha, with both of them giving me a crash course in the music’s basics. We visited several stations during the course of the day, all with the same modus operandi. Ravi had brought a small stack of 45s with him. He was introduced to the interviewer (usually a DJ), with the radio man talking a mile a minute with Ravi and Alla Rakha listening politely. Ravi quickly and invariably took charge of the show, playing samples and speaking of ragas, talas, instruments, and the classic tradition of old Indian music theory. By the time the interview ended, the DJ seemed sort of dazed but enthusiastic. I was, in essence, a fly on the wall but tried not to miss a word or note of the presentations.
When we parted that afternoon, Ravi said “Surely you are coming to our concert?” I replied that, alas, I was busy performing at Ed’s club that evening and was very sorry to miss out on the event. Ravi the said that he and Alla Rakha were giving a private performance the following day, Sunday afternoon, at the home of an Indian expatriate in the hills near UCLA, and insisted that I come. So that afternoon, I drove up to the home, set on a hillside under a grove of eucalyptus trees. The audience of 40 to 50 persons was mostly Indian, and I was made welcome and sat in the living room on a mat about eight feet from the low stage, covered with oriental carpets and decorated with large bouquets of flowers. The air was filled with the scent of sandalwood incense, in a holder at the front of the stage.
Ravi, Alla Rakha, and a friend (tanpoura player) came in and began their preparations to perform. I can remember the notes of the sitar coming like liquid drops of gold in rapid succession, mingling with beats from the tablas, the close interactions of the musicians, and the patterns the eucalyptus leaves’ shadows made on the carpets during the next four hours. I became a fan of Indian classical music for life that afternoon, and am eternally grateful to Ravi for taking the trouble to give me a proper introduction.
Pandit Ravi-Ji, you will be missed.