6: Utsav Lal and the Deliquescent Ivories

Episode 16 features Indian jazz pianist Utsav Lal!

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About the Guest: At 24 yrs of age, pianist Utsav Lal is a musician extraordinaire who has set a precedent in the world of music with his rendition of Ragas on the Piano.

Choosing to perform on an instrument that has traditionally been considered unsuitable for Hindustani Classical Music, Utsav’s innovative handling of a raga blends his diverse musical influences and has left listeners spellbound. His soulful renditions in traditional Alap jod jhala style are expressed with simplicity, sincerity and depth and have won him fans in every corner of the world.

Bestowed with the unique title of “Raga Pianist”, the musician is a delight to watch as he loses himself to his music, fingers follow the pace of the mind , as he unfolds the notes of the Raga to create a captivating musical experience. Lal’s playing with rhythmic intelligence and unfailing clarity of technique veers from delicately decorative to dazzling moments of improvisations.

Lal’s musical creativity draws from his advanced training in western classical and jazz at the world’s best international music conservatoires along with the exploration of Dhrupad style under his Guru, Ustad F.Wasifuddin Dagar and instrumental style under violinist mentor Sharat Srivastava.

MERU paasmaandag concert 2011One of Utsav’s most exciting projects has been to collaborate in exploring the symbiosis of sound with Brighton-based pianist, composer & inventor, Geoff Smith who unveiled his creation, the Fluid Piano™ in 2009.  In 2012, Lal also collaborated to perform with percussionist Talvin Singh at Kings Place-London, Pt. Samir Chaterjee at Asia Music Society-Hong Kong and Scottish fiddler-Adam Sutherland at the Strings of the World Festival.

With training in diverse genres, Utsav has conducted several workshops titled “Breaking Boundaries” for aspiring musicians in India & Ireland on thinking outside the box. Utsav’s musicality has drawn universal appeal and transcended boundaries procuring appreciation from Western classical, Indian Classical, Jazz and World music groups across the world.

Interview Outline

Early Days as a Musician

  • Fell in love with toy keyboards as a kid
  • Excelled in improvising; didn’t care for Western classical music

Difference between Indian and Western classical music

  • Indian based on “raga” style of music; western more rigid
  • 22 pitches in a traditional Indian chromatic scale.
  • Brief explanation of “just intonation.”

Utsav’s Introduction to Geoff Smith (inventor of fluid piano)

  • Contacted Geoff directly; played the fluid piano for him.
  • Videos got lots of hits, decided to make a record.
  • Indian classical music perfect fit for the fluid piano.

First impression of the fluid piano

  • A “stand alone” instrument; not a knock off of a piano
  • Only one in the world, so very expensive!

Life after the album and the Indian music scene

  • Major at New England Conservatory is “Experimental Improvisation”
  • Experience in U.K. and U.S. gave him unique experience to other musicians in India
  • Serious lack of jazz musicians in India. Only ones studied in Berklee/NEC, etc.
  • Pranai Gurang – Awesome jazz guitarist in India
  • Piano Man Jazz Club – Arjun Sagar Gupta

Business Side of the Fluid Piano Project

  • Geoff Smith got a grant from the UK Arts Council
  • Budget shortfall, so Utsav began an IndieGogo campaign to make up for it
  • 140% funded

About the author, James

I play the cornet, and trumpet when I get called to do so.
I'm also a podcaster.

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