Luca D. Majer
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An essay on John McLaughlin and Remember Shakti published in the December 2013 issue of the Italian music magazine Blow Up.

It includes an interview with John and a review of Remember Shakti's concert in Luzern (Switzerland) on Oct. 28th, 2013.


John & Shankar, Luzern Oct. 28th 2013



Excerpts from the interview:



LM: You may play with the most revered jazz musicians of our time (eg Elvin Jones) or with Eastern Ustads yet, no matter what is your slant, it would seem that you are constantly searching for that fleeting moment of musical ecstasy you once vividly described:

Rare nights I'm there, and those nights it's everything I live for. It may not even be all night. It may just be fifteen minutes, ten minutes, five minutes a night. But even it you have thirty seconds, it'll go on for six months. Because in that thirty seconds, or minute, whatever it is, you see everything. You see everything and you know everything.

Could you help us shed some light on what you do see?

JMcL: I am indeed extremely fortunate to have been blessed (or cursed), with an insatiable curiosity about other forms of music as well as jazz. Even more fortunate, to have had the opportunity and experience of playing with so many great musicians both Eastern and Western. I could have done this only through the affections of my ‘teachers’ or gurus, Miles, Coltrane, to have studied South Indian Vina with Dr. Ramanathan, and to have been accepted as an ‘extra-curricular’ student by the late Pandit Ravi Shankar.

It is well known that Jazz and the Music of India both North and South, have much common ground. Further, it is my personal conviction that both of these musical cultures are ways to experience ‘liberation’.

I believe it is THE fundamental desire of all human beings to experience total freedom. I also believe this experience is liberation from the self. It can happen in meditation also. This is what I speak about in the quote you cite above.

In the experience of liberation, you are freed from the ‘prison’ of self and this is the ultimate freedom. Having had this experience, this is the absolute and ultimate goal not only in music but also in life. As a consequence I continue to dedicate myself to it.


LM: I recently re-read a 1981 Italian review of Gurdjieff’s “Sacred Hymns”, played by Jarrett. In his review the critic, making reference to Gurdjieff’s vision of music (intended as a vehicle to a superior world or higher levels of conscience let it be via notes, melody and rhythm), concluded the review by commenting:

“Even laying down, in the dark, and lightening up an incense stick the results are modest”.  

In your opinion, can music - even for the listener - become a gateway to a superior state of consciousness or, per se (let alone a skeptical attitude), music is not a sufficient tool to reach enlightened states?

JMcL: Last night I attended a concert during which a Ravel string quartet was performed. I can truthfully say that I went into a higher state of conciousness, by higher what I mean is a joyful state, full of wonder. In view of the degree of affection with which music is held, I would say that most people and cultures agree that music is a gateway to a ‘higher’ level of awareness.


LM: There has been a lot of talking about “dumbing down” and I found you referring to the “sea of mediocrity” that is around us, in a recent interview. I was a teenager when “Birds of fire” and “Between Nothingness and Eternity” topped the charts in Italy: it would be impossible today. No names made, it seems as if today the ones replacing Mahavishnu at the top of the charts possess an average musicianship knocked down by a few notches. What is the sense that you make out of it?

JMcL: I don’t find any sense in it. But then I find little sense in the slogans and speeches of our ‘leaders’. It’s clear to me that the world of the 1960’s and 70’s in which we had so much hope for a better world, has, for whatever reasons, not come to pass. However, many great things have happened since then, and many wonderful advances made. One day the values of society will change, but as Vivekananda once said, “how can you ask some one to think of God when they have an empty belly?” There are still many empty bellies in the world not to mention dreadful injustices through the curse of ideology.

Music reflects human society, and what you say has some truth to it. We are at the same time evolving and de-volving, and society and music both reflect this phenomenon. 

Let us do the best we can at all times!