From "Players" Section
by Jason Koransky
When Sandip Burman finds someone he wants to perform with, he does not beat around the bush in conveying his intentions. The Indian tabla player simply calls them up…even if they don't know who he is.
That's how Burman met John DeJohnette - with whom he has performed on several occasions - as well as Bela Fleck. "I called Bela and said, 'You have to play with me,'" Burman laughs. "He did not know who I was. If you want something, the only way to make it happen is through action."
He laughs because his persistence paid off, as the Chicago-based classical Indian musician has appeared in concert with the Flecktones, collaborated with Fleck and bassist Victor Wooten separately, and lends his rhythmic propulsion to several tracks on the Flecktones' Outbound album. "He knows Indian classical music through and through," Wooten says. "Now we are working with him on blending that with our Western approach. We had him listening to James Brown and learning a simple backbeat. It's not a one-way learning process."
At only 32 years old, Burman would not consider himself by any means a master at Indian classical music, which has traditional ragas (essentially the song melodies) and talas (rhythms) dating back more than 1,000 years. The native of Durgapur, India, is, however, an amazingly accomplished musician for his age, capable of improvising for hours complex meters, such as 8 ½ and 5 ¼. He started playing tabla at age 6, when Pandit Shyamal Bose of Calcutta, a tabla maestro, accepted him as a student. From this point forward, tabla did not serve as a hobby for Burman - it became the focus of his existence, and he has performed with such Indian classical musicians as sitar player Ravi Shankar and sarod player Rajeev Taranath (with whom he recorded the album Indian Classical Music). He first came to the United States in 1988, when the ashram at which he was a teacher in Calcutta sent him to Los Angeles to teach at one of its branches.
"I grew up extremely poor, and came to the States with no money and knowing virtually no English," Burman emphasizes, explaining that this plays a major role in his drive as a musician. Through tireless self-promotion and persistence, he has developed a career. Part of this career includes reaching out to the jazz world. In addition to his work with Fleck and DeJohnette, Burman assembled the band "East Meets Jazz" - featuring Randy Brecker(trumpet), Dave Pietro (saxophone), Howard Levy (harmonica), Paul Bollenback (guitar), Jerry Goodman (violin), Victor Bailey (bass), and Steve Smith (drums) - that toured the States in summer (the tour was cut short due to the Sept. 11 attacks).
"I was 'Ran-deep,' the Indian raga trumpet player," Brecker jokes. "The music was difficult, playing in these complex meters, trying to improvise around a particular set of notes."
"Both jazz and Indian classical music are improvisatory," says Pietro, who has traveled to India twice with Burman to stay with his family and perform. "There's a natural affinity and attraction between the two musics, but they're completely different. You can play whatever you want in modern jazz, any note at any time in any rhythm. In Indian classical music, the notes stay within the raga. Phrases have to resolve in a certain way. The rules are there for a reason, to create a certain sound, feel or mood."
Burman has also become involved in music education, having conducted clinics at universities such as Stanford, DePaul, Wichita State, and Texas Tech. "Sandip's mixed meters are exciting," says Alan Shinn, director of the percussion and jazz studies departments at Texas Tech. "Tabla always entices our drummers and adds another element to their studies."