Aditya Kalyanpur

Kalyanpur enjoys sharing knowledge about his instrument. It’s a generous, sensitive character that comes through when you witness his “conversational” performances with sympathetic players in any musical genre, but particularly in sounds dating back to the earliest days of classical Indian music.

“It’s a dialogue,” he says. “You’re trying to complement each other, so it’s extremely important what kind of accompaniment you choose to play with somebody. It should not disturb the other instrument or suppress it; it should adapt a style that suits the other instrument, and the style of the instrumentalist who plays.”

Whether it’s in the context of an Indian classical concert, a pop studio session, or a workout with one of his jazz-rock-oriented bands, Kalyanpur easily makes adjustments to his playing technique to pair like a pal with the contrasting instruments he’s sitting with, whether it’s a sarod or an electric bass.

“I have to make adjustments in my creativity,” he says. “In my approach to each instrument, I’m trying to understand the soul of that instrument, the soul of that musician I am playing with. What does he expect from me as a drummer? How can I complement his music? How can I embellish it best to my abilities so that it sounds ‘one’? Whether it’s jazz or sarod or sitar, I’m always trying to adapt in a way that complements the other player’s style and do justice to that form of music.”

While for Westerners it can be surprising when the historical, often cerebral classical Indian music is heard in contexts outside the dignified concert hall, Kalyanpur’s work in a variety of advertisements or session work for non-“serious music” artists such as Keith Richards and Katy Perry presents no problem in reconciling the values of these disparate spheres.

“Whenever I play with any form of music or kind of musician, I’ve never thought that I’m having to compromise my traditions or the vast repertoire of what I learned. I’ve always felt that it’s a beautiful challenge, how to implement that tradition in a new format, whether it’s pop or it’s jazz or traditional Indian classical. It’s very challenging when you’re compelled to think of new ways to present that tradition. I’m happy to adapt and modify that tradition in a way that people will like, and will say, ‘Yeah, this is modern within a traditional framework.’”

Like the artist who plays them, Kalyanpur’s tablas themselves are keenly responsive instruments. Tablas are made to resonate in certain keys like a D, C, A sharp, B flat, and so on, and have the flexibility to go down a half note or up a half note. That’s the maximum each can be tuned to; if the desired note can’t be reached, one has to use another drum.

On tour Kalyanpur usually travels with two or three different drums of different keys, and he says they are incredibly sensitive to temperature and humidity. He has to have a tight cover or at least a blanket wrapped around them to protect them from damage and to ensure that they remain in the same temperature range. A familiar sight at an Indian music concert is that of the tabla players tuning with a hammer between every song.

“A lot of factors determine the tuning,” he says. “It all depends on the conditions in that room at that time, at that place; it could be the lights, the air conditioning, the heat, a lot of hard bashing, the vibrations of the other instruments.”

Here's footage we got from The San Jose Jazz Festival of Aditya playing with Bombay Jazz at The California Theater.

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