As an impressionable listener of instrumental music, I like to consider myself a poor music enthusiast as it has been only six years since I unearthed John McLaughlin. It is the same reason why I would like to consider myself an unlucky guitarist as well. For me and as for the vast majority of my contemporaries, McLaughlin was, is and forever will be the ultimate fusion guitarist who successfully made a mysterious marriage of jazz and indo-classical music for the first time in the world.
“Lotus feet” is the track which made me a huge fan of John McLaughlin and his band Remember Shakti. Indeed this is the composition which immersed me to explore the mysterious fusion of jazz and indo-classic scales and ragas. John McLaughlin was the pioneer of such a new musical genre which is global in its essence and interpretation. He is one of the finest contemporary fusion guitarists in the world. In 2018, at the age of 76, he still possessed a great hunger for playing guitar, won a Grammy Award for the Best Improvised Jazz Solo ‘Miles Beyond’ at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in January, 2018. Eminent guitarist Jeff Beck called him “the best guitarist alive”.
McLaughlin’s soulful guitar playing plunges the soul of the music devotees into his obvious blinding virtuosity and his fingers are blessed with a number of cogently wonderful techniques that are prominent among the guitarist around the world. John was born into a British family of musicians. In his early childhood, John listened to classical music, and studied piano and violin However, at age 11 he learned a few guitar chords. Late he got in flamenco and Spanish classical music.
John McLaughlin is one of the greatest musicians of 20th century whose aspiration for world music have made him eminent. In spite of his vast knowledge over musical theories and technical skills, he remains an eternal aspirant.
He has immersed himself in jazz, classical, and flamenco, in the improvisational excursions of saxophonist John Coltrane and sitarist Ravi Shankar; in composers from Beethoven to Stravinsky and in guitarists from Tal Farlow to Jimi Hendrix.
It needs no emphasizing that many famous guitarists seem trapped in a harmonically bleak, pentatonic prison, McLaughlin’s depth and dexterity enables him to freely wander on the fret. John’s playing is full of intent and focus and there is a hypnotic sense of purpose to the music. If you are unprepared, or not in the right mood, the listening experience can easily be overwhelming, but once you get into it you will find the effect reversed.
However, McLaughlin’s musical interest and takes a turn over for making something new when he joined, Graham Bond Organization, an English band. Bond introduced him to a number of occult books. In a search for spiritual bearings he joined London’s Theosophical Society, which introduced him to the writings of various Eastern philosophical masters. Thus he explored Ravi Shankar, and delved himself deep into the complexities of Indo-classical.
He formed the group Shakti with some of the godfathers of Indian classical music like violinist L Shankar and percussionists Zakir Hussain. Shakti was the first band to truly capture the essence of ‘Global Music’ that blends Eastern musical models with Western jazz.
Once in an interview John was asked that why does he love guitar. His answer was not less spiritual than of his lifestyle and playing. He answered, “Why is someone drawn to Buddhism? Why does someone make pornographic movies? I don’t know the answers. That’s something that I believe lies in past lives. All I know is that I love it – that’s the self-evident proof. The very first time I ever played the guitar I fell in love with it. I loved the sound, I loved the feeling.”
Indeed, his love for music is fueling him even at 76.
The writer works with Bangladesh Post