Writings about Music
Michael Robinson (Los Angeles)
There is much to admire in this quote by George Harrison from a remarkably unique and substantive book by Olivia Harrison beginning a section titled "Pilgrimage."
Each person has to find for himself a way for inner realisation. I still believe that's the only reason we're on this planet. It's like going to school again: each soul is potentially divine and the goal is to manifest that divinity. Everything else is secondary. (George Harrison)
I know that when I compose there is some of this sense intuitively. What I have stated previously is endeavoring to reflect the perfection of God or nature in music. But there is a distinction with what George said I will contemplate both for my composing and now my piano improvisations as well. George's statement brings in the self while mine is unaware of the self. Interestingly, when I spent time with George, he made a comparison depicting us as students in a science class, so the concept of students and school obviously touched deeply into his consciousness.
Rollan Masciarelli, the band director at my high school in Wantagh, once startled me by saying I was the most intelligent person in our entire graduating class.
Olivia's book about George describes and pictures his physical journey to India. Regretfully, I was unable to accept an invitation from Pandit Jasraj to stay at his home there where he wished to take me to his favorite Himalayan temples. Regardless, I am transported each time I listen to the music of Pandit Jasraj. His music and teachings have been a source of bountiful inspiration together with Shivkumar Sharma, Anindo Chatterjee, Swapan Chaudhuri and Zakir Hussain.
I did get to stay for three months at the home of Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy, a world-renowned scholar and author who founded the first ethnomusicology department in America at UCLA. Jairazbhoy and his wife, Amy Catlin, also a UCLA South Asian music professor, invited me to housesit during their yearly sojourn to India where I made much use of their extraordinarily deep library filled with rare books and recordings.
When we first met, Nazir embraced my music with great enthusiasm, inviting me to lecture for his Indian classical music class about my compositions influenced by ragas where he stated, "His music is a refreshing alternative to traditional Indian classical music."
Staying at their home felt very much like being in India, the abode filled with furniture and decorations reflecting Nazir's heritage. It was also wonderful to hear how he played a recording of my music for the All India Music Conference that year.
Visiting the home of Harihar Rao for weekly lessons also felt like being in India, again from the furniture and decorations together with Harihar's teachings and authentic clothing. Harihar was the senior disciple of Ravi Shankar, and the person closest to him for most of their lives. Harrison famously studied with Shankar, while also having lessons with Rao, all three performing together on seventies group tours. Harihar once told me, "You are reaching into the core of the spirit of Indian classical music, which is a spiritual yearning." He also felt adbhuta rasa most strongly in my music, meaning wonderment and adventure.
"Pilgrimage" is a most welcome word and concept, applying really to all my compositions, including the newest, Jetavana.
I found Olivia's book about George in the library today, like it was waiting there for me, and am most grateful. Funny, my initial exposure to Ravi Shankar happened with an unusual library book experience. It was a phenomenally beautiful day, really feeling like San Francisco with the bright sun, true blue sky and dancing breezes.
George and Olivia Harrison
Earlier in the day, an endearing older gentleman who performed a smog check for my car told me how he arrived in Los Angeles from Iran in 1979. Upon enthusing about the Attari Cafe in Westwood, I learned he also goes there for a favorite soup, concurring with me about the excellence of their rice pudding and baklava. And I got the name of the soup!
Speaking of pilgrimages brings to mind the opening track on my first album, Trembling Flowers, titled "Pilgrim."
I treasure the time I spent with George Harrison, and feel he would have been both fascinated and amused in a good way by the unusual nature of my new improvisations on three of his songs, including Within You Without You, Blue Jay Way, and what is my favorite Beatles song of all, While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
One of these days I will drive up there and take a peek at Blue Jay Way, just a few miles away. Actually, I believe I already did so some years ago, there being nothing to see from the street, the house obscured by foliage, and the dramatic views only visible from inside the dwelling and backyard. It is a difficult place to find, thankfully so, George's song inspired by his friends being unable to locate the house in timely fashion.
- Michael Robinson, April 2022, Los Angeles
© 2022 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, jazz pianist and musicologist. His 170 albums include 150 albums for meruvina and 20 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University.