Prasanna's Carnatic Convergence Concept Produces Potent Panethnic Potion
AAJ: Explain what fostered your love for jazz and fusion also during this period.
P: Steely Dan, Weather Report, and Chick Corea's fusion works sort of laid the foundation for me to get into straight ahead jazz, though I must admit that it took a little while for me to get into the real trip of jazz.
AAJ: Can you expand on the period before coming to the US and the whole IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) experience?
P: I graduated from IIT with a degree in Naval Architecture in 1992. IIT is one of the world's top engineering schools. For the record, around 250,000 people take the entrance test every year to get into one of only 3500 seats or so in all. IIT graduates almost always end up getting very good scholarships to get advanced degrees at major prestigious schools in the US, etcetera. So, at some level, constantly being exposed to the highest levels of merit-based competition definitely helped build my character and resolve. Interestingly, that resolve turned out to be to opt for a life in music. Incidentally, I don't like the word 'career' so much when it comes to music.
AAJ: What musical experiences in India precipitated your attendance at Berklee?
P: By the time I chose to come to Berklee, I was quite well established as a carnatic musician and was performing at the top level in India. From a jazz standpoint, I wanted to get a lot deeper into the art form and Berklee was an obvious choice.
AAJ: When did you attend Berklee? Why did you pick it?
P: I first came to Berklee in 1994. I picked it because a lot of my 'heroes' went there. I looked at Berklee as a place for me to be immersed in music amidst people from all over the world, which I was sure would such an enjoyable learning experience.
AAJ: Was that your time of most intense growth period as a musician? If not what was?
P: To a large extent, yes! Going to Berklee was a life-changing experience for me, not only because of the wealth of music knowledge I gained, but also because I was now beginning to realize what my musical karma was emerging out to be. I was starting to realize that Carnatic music is virtually unknown among even the most advanced and well-exposed musicians, let alone listeners. I guess improvising on Charlie Parker standards using Carnatic ragas was interesting for me but I also got some strange vibes from certain jazz musicians that probably thought I was off the latch! In fact, that inspired me to get deeper and deeper into Jazz and Classical music, while at the same time get deeper and deeper into Carnatic music. I had to really believe in my mission and hone my own style of composition and guitar playing, not mindful of all the deterrents, and eventually it just became a journey of discovery and great fun. Along the way, I was able to carry a lot of good musicians with me and was able to be myself increasingly.
AAJ: You seem quite comfortable with the intricacies of music theory and its application to improvisation and composition. How much of that element do you bring into the compositional process?
P: Quite a bit, actually. Composition is a very integral part of my musical existence. The immortal compositions of great Carnatic composers like Tyagaraja, Dikshitar , Syama Sastri and others are great models in structural design, motivic development etc. This helped me relate to and understand at some level, the compositional process of the great composers of western classical music, particularly in the larger works. Similarly, the depth of improvisational potential in carnatic music and jazz are equally inspiring. Having also come from a very math and science-oriented background, the intellect, rigor and application of mind, to me are very essential in music making along with passion and heart - Mind, Body, Soul continuum, I guess!
AAJ: Does the amount of theory used vary based on the composition and the goals of the composition?
P: May be or maybe not. To me, there is really no such thing as 'theory'. Great music is both an art and science in equal measure. I sincerely believe that a musician has to know exactly what he's doing, in clear terms first, to be able to eventually transcend that state and go the next and more 'cosmic' state of just 'hearing' what he does, by which time the knowledge is truly internalized. Coltrane, Bartok, Stravinsky are all great examples of twentieth century masters in this regard!
AAJ: How heavily have you studied classical music?
P: Since I studied Composition in Berklee, I got a chance to get into classical music in-depth to some extent. I learned a lot when I had to analyze Beethoven and Bartok String Quartets, for example. I had an inspiring teacher in John Bavicchi, among many other great teachers at Berklee. Classical music is a huge ocean and I am just starting to drink a few sips here and there, and it is rich in all the musical nutrients I would constantly need in my musical life.