It's impossible to not be affected by Sandip Burman's energy. Much like his drumming, the Calcutta, India native speaks at a brisk pace, punctuated by hearty laughter. He began formal study of the tabla drums at the age of six with Pandit Shyamal Bose of Calcutta, one of India's distinguished tabla maestros. While still not well known in America, he has come a long way from his impoverished boyhood in Durgapur, playing tabla alongside some of India's most prominent classical musicians (including Pandit Ravi Shankar and Pandit Hari Prasad Cahurasia.), as well as the jazz and fusion elite. His warmth and sincerity has opened doors and won over musicians who at first asked, "Sandip who?"
"I came all the way from Calcutta to this country," he said. "I came via transcendental meditation and Guru Maharishi Yogi's sponsorship. People helped me out, to live in somebody's house. I started from scratch man. When I came here I didn't know English. Now I say, 'What's up man?' I got a chance, got a blessing to work on stage, sharing with all these Indian giants and all the way to Jack DeJohnette, Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, Paul McCandless, Andy Narrell, Howard Levy, and Glen Velez. So, that's how I started man."
The culmination of his dreams is his "East Meets Jazz" ensemble that will be touring coast to coast during August and September 2001. The all-star group features such musicians as Howard Levy (Bela Fleck), Steve Smith (Journey, Vital Information), Victor Bailey (Weather Report), Jerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra), and Randy Brecker (The Brecker Brothers).
I spoke with Sandip about how he began to put together a band of such well-known musicians. "Every year I wanted to create something new you know, like Shakti or the Mahavishnu Orchestra like that kind, but a little different obviously. I wanted to do my idea of a rhythmic thing. Then I just started to basically knock on doors. I'd call and say, 'Hey, you wanna play?' The response was:
'Who the hell are you?'
'This is Sandip Burman from India, Calcutta. I want to play.'
They'd say, 'OK, what do you do?'
'I play tabla.'
'Well, do you have a record?'
'No, I don't have one.'
'Can you come here?'
I'd say, 'I don't drive.'
'Well, who do you play with?' Then I'd say who I played with.
I'd say, 'OK, we'll do it.'
'What are we doing?'
I'd say, 'I don't know!'"
"So, Jack DeJohnette said, 'OK. Let's do it.' So, I called up Bela Fleck and said, 'Let's play.' I knocked on the door to Stanley Clarke. He said, 'Who? What do you want?' I think people got tired of putting up with me and said, 'Let's play with this guy and shut him up (laughs).'"
"After coming to America with nothing, knocking on doors and making contact with these musicians was the only thing to do. You know the (Hindu Holy) book Bahgavad Gita? I said something from it, 'Activity is better than inertia. Act, but with self-control. If you aren't living, you can't even sustain your own body.' That means it's better to play gigs than starve to death. So go, move your body and play some gigs man!"
"So I called Randy Brecker and said, 'This is Sandip. You want to do some gigs?' He said, 'You have to talk to my agent.' I said, 'I'm not going to talk to your agent.' He said, 'OK, OK. Send me the fax.'
'I don't know.'
He said, 'Wait a minute. Is it written?'
'In my Indian notation.'
'That's not gonna work.'
"I sent it to Howard Levy in my Indian notation. He called me back. "What the hell is that? Is this the Sanskrit language or what?' Then my friend Jerry Allan transposed everything. I called Jerry Goodman and he didn't return the call (laughs). Then I met Howard and he said, 'That's complicated stuff.' I was looking for a drummer. I talked to Howard and Jerry because Jack couldn't do it and I needed a good drummer. So, Jerry suggested Steve Smith and I called him on his cell phone. 'This is Sandip Burman,' I said. 'OK, what do you want?' 'Steve, I'm not from the phone company. I'm not trying to sell pizza! I'm trying to sell a gig playing Indian stuff.' He said, 'Oh yeah, I love Indian stuff.' 'That works for me,' I said."
"So, then I talked to Randy and then I needed a bass player. I had toured with Victor Wooten, but he was busy with the Flecktones. So, then I called Stanley and he couldn't do it. Then he introduced me to Victor Bailey. His people told him I was a legitimate guy. So that's how the whole group happened. We're going to rehearse and then start playing on the 19th."
With this combination of Indian music meeting Western jazz players, I asked Sandip what we could expect? "Wildness!" he replied. He then went through some of the various time signatures the music was in and sang out some of the tunes while clapping, including a wild version of the "Mission Impossible" theme in 8½. "KVS Vinay, a violinist, helped me arrange the music. I flew to Boston and met with him. It would be hard to do this without him," Sandip said.
Sandip's energy and enthusiasm is contagious. How else could he just call up these musicians and convince them to tour playing his music? As he said, "I'm enjoying this life man. It's better to do work than to not do anything."
Be sure to catch this all-star band on tour in August and September.
East Meets Jazz featuring:
Sandip Burman - tabla
KVS Vinay - violin
Howard Levy - harmonica, keyboards
Steve Smith - drums
Victor Bailey - bass
Jerry Goodman - violin
David Pietro - sax
Randy Brecker - trumpet
August Tour Schedule:
19 Michigan State University, Troy, MI
20 Martin Theater, Chicago, IL
21 Shank Hall, Milwaukee, WI
22 Annex Hall, Madison, WI
23 Dakota Jazz Club, Minneapolis, MN
24 New Moon Cafe, Oshkosh, WI
25 Ethnic Festival, San Luis Obispo, CA
26 San Diego, CA
September Tour Schedule:
1 CAC Theater, Wichita, KS
2 Manhattan, KS
4 Allen Theater, Lubbock, TX
5 SF State Univ, San Francisco, CA
6 Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA
7 Street Scene Festival, San Diego, CA
8 Birchmere, Alexandria, VA
9 Ramshead, Annapolis, MD
10 Blacksburg, VA
11 Lyric Theater, Blacksburg, VA
12 Visulite Theater, Charlotte, NC
13 Acoustic Stage, Hickory, NC
14 Brewery Club, Durham, NC
15 Piedmont CC, Charlottesville, VA
16 VanDyke, Schnectedy, NY
17 Iron Horse, North Hampton, MA
18 Fairfield Univ, Connecticut
19 Village Underground, New York, NY
20 Paramount Ctr for the Arts, Peekskill, NY
21 I-Max Theater, Huntington, NY
22 Grico Riverside Jazz Cafe, Plains, PA