NEW YORK: The kids at first didn’t seem to know how to respond as Ravi Shankar began his four-hour set on the final afternoon of the Monterey Pop Festival, in the fabled summer of 1967.
As captured in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary, some nodded along and smiled; Jimi Hendrix listened carefully. Others dozed, or chatted. A few hippies danced wildly, as if they couldn’t tell — or didn’t care about — the difference between Shankar’s raga and a Jefferson Airplane jam. But as the performance accelerated from isolated strains to a pace that could exhaust the speediest rock star, eyes opened, minds expanded and Shankar and his fellow musicians left to a long standing ovation.
Labeled “the godfather of world music” by Beatle George Harrison, Shankar helped millions of Westerners — classical, jazz and rock lovers — discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music. From Harrison to John Coltrane, from Yehudi Menuhin to Andre Previn, he bridged, sometimes unsteadily, the musical gap between East and West, between what Shankar noted as the classical East’s emphasis on melody and rhythm and the classical West’s foundation of “harmony, counterpoint, chords, modulation and other basics.”
Shankar died Tuesday at age 92. A statement on his website said he died in San Diego, near his Southern California home with his wife and a daughter by his side. The musician’s foundation issued a statement saying that he had suffered upper respiratory and heart problems and had undergone heart-valve replacement surgery last week.
“My dad’s music touched millions of people,” his daughter, musician Norah Jones, said in a news release. “He will be greatly missed by me and music lovers everywhere.”
Through Shankar and his bond with Harrison, countless rock acts absorbed Eastern sounds.
Shankar also became a conscience for all popular musicians when he helped pioneer the rock benefit show with the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh, where featured acts included Harrison, Ringo Starr and Bob Dylan.
His last musical performance was with his other daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar Wright, on Nov. 4 in Long Beach, Calif. The multiple Grammy winner received a lifetime achievement honor Wednesday from the Recording Academy.