Growing up with the legends: Ustad Fazal Qureshi

Tabla maestro Ustad Fazal Qureshi took time out to talk to Classical Claps on Abbaji and how jazz and tabla together are a heady combination.

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When you spend your childhood learning under the tutelage of none other than the legendary tabla maestro Ustad Allarakha. And grow up listening to Pandit Ravishankar playing music as you sit beside him, you know that the foundation of an extraordinary musical background has been set.

Ustad Fazal Qureshi, a tabla maestro par excellence, belongs to the first family of tabla in India. If his dad Ustad Allarakha, popularized tabla across the globe, his brother Padmabhushan awardee Zakir Hussain is a world-renowned tabla player. Ustad Fazal Qureshi, has evolved his own unique style of music and is often credited for his special rendering of the sound of jazz along with tabla. He has performed with some of the best- known jazz musicians across the globe.

While he continues to play his melody, and teach students the craft called classical music, recently the music stalwart was busy conceptualizing an event that is both extremely close to his heart and is a passion project. A special concert commemorating his father, the great Ustad Allarkha was held in Mumbai. Close on the heels of this special project, Ustad Fazal Qureshi took time out to talk to Classical Claps on Abbaji, as his father is fondly called and on how jazz and tabla together can be a melodious combination.

Talking about growing up under the aegis of Ustad Allarakha Ustad Fazal says,

“Learning from my father was like deciphering the code of life. For him, music was everything. Tabla was his life and his personality. He lived and breath tabla.”

While it is a well-known fact that during his growing up years, Ustad Fazal often sat beside his father and Pandit Ravishankar, it is natural to wonder that for a budding musician whether it was an intimidating or a challenging atmosphere at home. Ustad Fazal, says with a smile, “Learning from him (Abbaji) was like getting to know him, his personality, his philosophy. Obviously, both Zakirbhai and me were intimidated by his dedication. It was difficult to match it.”

ustad allarakha, zakir hussain, fazal qureshi, tabla

Ustad Fazal Qureshi with father Ustad Allarakha and brother Zakir Hussain | Pic: www.allarakhafoundation.org/

Recalling his formative years with his father who pioneered the movement of tabla amongst western audiences back in the 1960’s, Ustad Fazal gives interesting insights about his father’s teaching style. He says, “His reaction to what we were playing would be instant …..both his approval and disapproval.” On whether it meant hours of rigorous practice or learning the finer nuances, he says, “My father would supervise our practice sessions making sure that the tabla syllables (bols) are played correctly.”

On the unique synchronization of tabla along with jazz, a music genre belonging to the African-American community in New Orleans, America during the late 19th century. Ustad Fazal, takes us back in time to his father’s era. He says, “My father was an inspiration for this. Not many know that in 60’s he played with Jazz Drummers and musicians.”

Talking about that period with an apparent nostalgia, he adds, “One name that pops up (in mind) is of Buddy Rich, a great Jazz drummer. There is an album out called Ala Rich

On his further collaborations, he adds, “He also was a part of the collaboration with Yehudi Menuhin(violin), a western classical master, together with Pandit Ravi Shankar.”

Amongst the most memorable of the music moments in his life, amongst many, Ustad Fazal is still partial to the times when he performed with his father and his brother Zakir Hussain whom he calls Zakirbhai together on stage.

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