Saxophone Summit: Kadri Gopalnath and Rudresh Mahanthappa

Kadri Gopalnath and Rudresh Mahanthappa, two leading artists from American jazz and Indian classical music, combine their prodigious talents in this one-of-a-kind collaboration. They are backed up by an all-star lineup of guitarist Rez Abbasi, violinist A. Kanyakumari, drummers Royal Hartigan and Poovalur Sriji, and bassist Carlo de Rosa.


Kadri Gopalnath, alto saxophone
Rudresh Mahanthappa, alto saxophone
A. Kanyakumari, violin
Rez Abbasi, guitar/sitar
Royal Hartigan, drums
Poovalur Sriji, mridangam
Carlo de Rosa, bass

Recorded at the Freer Gallery of Art on Saturday, November 10, 2007.


Creating and performing this suite has been an amazing experience for both of us. While we are both improvising musicians with ties to south India who play alto saxophone (hence the Sanskrit title Svajanam, meaning kinsmen), the similarities and differences in how we approach our respective traditions are rather complex and intriguing. We believe that Svajanam highlights the multifaceted intricacies and intersections of jazz and Carnatic [south Indian classical] music thus creating a sound that transcends the label of “Indo-jazz fusion.”

While many jazz musicians have worked with basic Indian concepts of raga (melodic mode) and tala (rhythmic mode), and Indian musicians have worked with perceptions of Western harmony, we consider this project to be an opening of a new door in Indo-jazz collaboration. The debut of Svajanam in 2005 at the Asia Society proved to be a tremendous success both for us and our audiences. We sincerely hope that you enjoy this heartfelt music that we are so excited to share with you.

- Rudresh Mahanthappa and Kadri Gopalnath (2007)


The late Kadri Gopalnath (1949–2019), saxophone, was awarded Padmashree, the highest award given to an artist in India, by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in 2004. Gopalnath started learning the saxophone from T.V. Gopalakrishnan in Madras in 1975. Two years later he gave his first concert and became an instant sensation. His innovations in adapting the saxophone to Carnatic (south Indian classical) music soon spread throughout India, where he has frequently been the highlight of festivals and concerts. He participated in major festivals and presentations around the world, including the Music Halle Festival in France, the International Cervatino Festival in Mexico, the Berlin Jazz Festival, and the World Music Institute in New York. He also toured the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia, Bahrain, Qatar, Muscat, Malaysia, and Singapore, among other countries. Gopalnath collaborated with many leading jazz musicians, including saxophonist John Handy and flutist James Newton. In 1994 he became the first south Indian classical musician to be invited to perform in the BBC Promenade concert. Gopalnath has also participated in a number of film projects, including The Duet by Tamil director K. Balachander, with a musical score by A. R. Rahman. See his obituary in the New York Times here:

Rudresh Mahanthappa, saxophone, is a Guggenheim Fellow and one of the most innovative young musicians and composers in jazz today. Named a “Rising Star” by the Downbeat International Critics Poll for five years running, Mahanthappa incorporates the culture of his Indian ancestry and fuses myriad influences to create a unique artistic vision. As a performer, he leads and co-leads no less than seven ensembles. His most recent release, Codebook (2006), received rave reviews from Downbeat, Jazztimes, and Science magazine. It was named one of the top jazz albums of 2006 by the Village Voice, Jazztimes, and the Denver Post. The album reached number seven on US jazz radio charts and number one on Canadian jazz radio charts. He performed the work at the Freer Gallery in 2006. Mahanthappa appears regularly at jazz festivals and clubs worldwide. As a composer, he has received commission grants from the Rockefeller Foundation MAP fund, American Composers Forum, Chamber Music America, and the New York State Council on the Arts. Mahanthappa holds a bachelor’s degree in jazz performance from the Berklee College of Music and a master’s degree in jazz composition from DePaul University. He teaches at the New School University and is a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow.

Kanyakumari, violin, is a recipient of the prestigious title Kalaimamani and is one of the most accomplished musicians of India. She hails from Andhra Pradesh, lives in Chennai, and has been an active performer for more than twenty-five years. She initially studied with I. Viyayeswara Rao and later with M. Chandrasekaran under a scholarship from the government of India. Early in her career, she accompanied many stalwarts, such as M. Balamuralikrishna, T. R. Mahalingam, and S. Kalyanaraman. Later she accompanied Mandolin Srinivas and in recent years she has devoted her collaborations entirely to Kadri Gopalnath. She is also a distinguished soloist and has conducted recitals featuring twenty-five violins, fifty violins, and recently a hundred instruments for the new millennium.

Rez Abbasi, guitar and sitar, is considered to be one of today’s foremost modern jazz guitar players. He has been called “unique and amazing” by Pat Metheny. Abbasi was born in Pakistan, raised in California, and schooled in jazz and classical music at the University of Southern California and the Manhattan School of Music. After graduation, he studied with north Indian percussionist Alla Rakha. He has toured in Europe, Canada, Mexico, the United States, and India. He has performed or recorded with the likes of Grammy Award winner Ruth Brown, Peter Erskine, Kenny Werner, Barre Phillips, Marc Johnson, Billy Hart, Gary Kiran Ahluwalia, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Tony Malaby, George Brooks, Ronu Majumdar, Kadri Gopalnath, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Greg Osby, and a host of others. With five albums of original compositions to his credit, Abbasi continues to garner new groups of musicians to help his musical vision come to life. His 2005 recording Snake Charmer featured his original approach to blending jazz and Indian music. Jazziz magazine said of Snake Charmer: “invigorating playing with unpredictable and fascinating compositions. . . . Abbasi is a rarity!” In 2006 Abbasi recorded Bazaar on the Zoho label.

Carlo de Rosa, bass, earned his master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. Since then, he has performed with Ed Thigpen, Ralph Alessi, Micky Roker, Ray Baretto, Nick Brignola, Ravi Coltrane, Bruce Barth, William Cepeda, Dave Valentin, Jason Moran, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Candido Camero. De Rosa has performed at festivals, concert halls, and clubs in twelve European countries, as well as Russia, Chile, Argentina, Romania, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Mauritius. When performing in New York City, he can be heard at the Jazz Standard, Blue Note, Birdland, Sweet Rhythm, and the Jazz Gallery, among other locales. He collaborates regularly with Dave Allen, Victor Prieto, Luis Perdomo, Allison Miller, Wilson “Chembo” Corniel, Vijay Iyer, Ingrid Jensen, Sam Newsome, Mark Shim, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Andrea Brachfeld, and Liberty Ellman. He has given clinics and master classes around the globe and developed teaching affiliations with the Drummers Collective, National Guitar Workshop, Henry Street Settlement, and Long Island University.

Poovalur Sriji, mridangam, is a prolific composer, performer, and educator. He first studied south Indian classical music with his father, P. A. Venkataraman. For over three decades Sriji has performed with the leading artists from both the south and north Indian classical traditions. Since moving to the United States, Sriji has performed and recorded with artists Yehudi Menuhin, Bela Fleck, Mark O’Connor, John Bergamo, and Glen Velez, to name a few. He has also composed a number of original works based on south Indian idioms. His many awards include a Grammy nomination for the album Tabula Rasa, which he composed and performed along with Bela Fleck, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, and J. P. Chen. He is a founding member of the group Brahma, and he founded and directs SNEW and the South Indian Cross Cultural Ensemble. He has taught at the California Institute of the Arts and San Diego State University and is currently on the faculty at the University of North Texas.

Royal Hartigan, percussion, has studied and performed the music of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. Hartigan earned his MA and PhD degrees in world music at Wesleyan University, studying with Edward Blackwell, Freeman Donkor, Abraham Adzenyah, and other master artists. He has taught ethnomusicology, African drumming, and world music ensemble at several universities. He is currently affiliated with the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth’s world music program. His publications include Cross Cultural Performance and Analysis of West African, African American, Native American, Central Javanese, and South Indian Drumming, a 1,700-page analysis of world drumming traditions (Edwin Mellen Press); West African Rhythms for Drumset (Manhattan Music/Warner Brothers); and articles in Annual Review of Jazz Studies and the African American Review. He has performed, given workshops, and recorded internationally with his own quartet (Blood Drum Spirit, 1997), Juba (Look on the Rainbow, 1987), Talking Drums (Talking Drums, 1985), and Someday Catch, Someday Down 1987), the Fred Ho Afro-Asian Music Ensemble (We Refuse to be Used and Abused and Song for Manong, 1988; Monkey Epic Part 1, 1996; Monkey Epic Part 2, 1997; Yes Mean Yes, No Means No! 1998), and Hafez Modirzadeh’s Paradox ensemble (Chromodal Discourse, 1993; The People’s Blues, 1996; and The Mystery of Sama, 1998), among others. He has released a documentary and artistic video of his work in West Africa and its relationships with African American music cultures (Eve, 1997).


All music composed by Kadri Gopalnath and Rudresh Mahanthappa and commissioned by the Asia Society. US tour produced by the Asia Society and staff members Rachel Cooper and La Francis Hui. Podcast coordination by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts for the Freer and Sackler. Thanks to Andy Finch for audio recording, SuMo Productions for audio editing, Nancy Eickel for text editing, Ryan King for web design, Torie Castiello Ketcham for web production, and especially the musicians for granting permission to share their performances at the Freer and Sackler.

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