From jazz to raga

Local musician is ready for sitar debut after nearly a decade of study

It took nine years for Mountain View musician Charles Lloyd to master the sitar. Now, he has the chance not only to perform in front of a live audience, but also to pay public respect to his teacher.

Lloyd -- not to be mistaken with the jazz great of the same name -- will perform a concert at Tateuchi Hall at the Community School of Music and Arts on Saturday, Oct. 4, at 7:30 p.m. The performance is known as a Ganda Bandhan: a traditional ceremony of acceptance that marks a new phase in the relationship between the guru, or teacher, and the shishya, or student.

The sitar, a popular instrument in Northern Indian musical tradition, is a long-necked lute with a deep gourd body and as many as 20 movable frets. Lloyd has been learning how to play the sitar from Guru Habib Khan, a master sitarist based in the Bay Area.

Lloyd explained that the North Indian raga style of music has been passed down for centuries through oral tradition, which requires a significant level of trust between the teacher and the student.

"It has an amazing tradition of teachers passing things on to their students," Lloyd said of raga.

Lloyd explained that his interest in Indian music began while he was a student at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He went to Berklee to study jazz, he said, but became distracted by raga. During his junior year, he traveled to India, where he bought his first sitar, and soon realized he needed a guru to teach him how to play it properly. When he came back to the Bay Area following graduation from college, a friend referred him to Khan.

Lloyd said that learning raga marked a significant departure from jazz music.

"The only thing that's similar is the use of improvisation," he said.

Though learning to play the sitar took a long time, Lloyd said he enjoyed the rigor and the meticulous attention to detail necessary to master the instrument.

"It's a very slow process, but it's very systematic," he noted.

His guru Khan hails from a long line of Indian sitarists and is considered an ambassador of Indian music in the west. He is a performer, composer and vocalist, as well as the founder and artistic director of the Habib Khan Saraswati Temple and Gurukul, a non-profit dedicated to promoting North Indian classical music. At the gurukul or conservatory, Khan teaches students of all ages and musical backgrounds. Khan said that as a student, Lloyd distinguished himself through his work ethic, and that it was clear music was a significant part of Lloyd's life.

"I could see that he was serious," Khan said. "He's a very good student of mine."

Khan explained that he sought to impart to Lloyd not only mechanical and musical ability, but also an understanding of the respect dynamic between the shishya and the guru.

According to Khan, the real learning starts now for Lloyd, just as he is about to be officially accepted as one of his guru's own students.

For his part, Lloyd said he was looking forward to the opportunity, and to the concert.

"I'm just humbled and excited to have the chance to do it," he said.

What: Habib Khan presents Charles Lloyd in a Ganda Bandhan concert

Where: Tateuchi Hall, Community School of Music and Arts, 230 San Antonio Circle, Mountain View

When: Saturday, Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m.

Cost: Free, with a suggested donation of $15 to $30

Info: Go to habibkhansitarist.com or call 408-528-0786.

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