World Concert Tour
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Jai Uttal, Grammy nominated sacred music composer, recording artist, multi-instrumentalist, and ecstatic vocalist, combines influences from India with influences from American rock and jazz, creating a stimulating and exotic multi-cultural fusion that is truly world spirit music.
Having travelled extensively in India, where he met many great saints and singers, Bhakti Yoga became his personal path. Jai has been leading, teaching and performing kirtan around the world for close to 50 years, creating a safe environment for all people to open their hearts and voices.
Jai’s musical journey began at an early age. Growing up in Manhattan, the son of record executive Larry Uttal, he was ideally suited to absorb pop music’s ’50s and ’60s golden age. “Every week my father would bring home the top ten singles and play them for my sister and me, asking for our opinions.” he remembers. “That was just so great. We were surrounded by musicians and producers and even got to witness some timeless recording sessions.”
Jai studied piano when he was quite young but his real musical passion emerged when he discovered the banjo, diving deeply into the old timey Appalachian song tradition. Then, of course, came electric guitar and the mind bending universe of sonic colors inspired by Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles.
But a first encounter with Indian music at age 17, attending a concert by Maestro Ali Akbar Khan, proved to be a life-changing experience. He would later say that this music “entered my heart like the source of all life.” Soon he was studying sarod (a twenty five stringed Indian lute) with Khansahib in Northern California, which would become his home. Jai says that his time with Maestro Khan totally transformed his relationship to sound and to music itself. It also led to the discovery of his singing voice. “Ali Akbar Khan insisted that all his students study singing as well as instrumental music.” Jai explains. “He said, ‘All music comes from the voice. I won’t teach you sarod unless you also study voice.’ Jai says “It took me a while to feel comfortable singing, but I found that when I was practicing the ragas, I started having glimmers of this deep, deep inner world that I never knew existed. I found through singing the key to my healing and salvation.”
Music and spiritual practice became inextricably linked for Jai when he met the great Indian saint, Neem Karoli Baba, in 1971. Maharajji, as he was called by his devotees, encouraged the practice of Bhakti (devotional) Yoga as expressed through kirtan, the call-and-response chanting of sacred mantras, and service. Kirtan would become the center of Jai’s musical and spiritual life, giving him what he calls his “soul support system!”
Jai’s concerts range from subtle and deeply meditative mantra repetitions to wild ecstatic, rhythmic, call and response Kirtans.
Sometimes Jai performs solo, sharing his repertoire of soulful songs in English and Sanskrit, creating a mesmerizing, otherworldly ambience; and at other times he performs with a full 15 piece band including bass, drums, electric guitars, horn section, mridanga and more. Reggae, rock and even samba become the backdrop to Jai’s passionate mantra singing. For his current World Tour, Jai is working with a core band of musicians and vocalists who are ready, willing and able to traverse the many-colored world of Jai’s musical inspirations. In whatever setting, mood or musical configuration he presents, Jai reveals and shares his deep heart of devotion and the song of the soul’s longing for Spirit.
“The universe is filled with colors and melodies,” Jai says. “They’re just everywhere, if only we could see and hear them more clearly. I feel that all art exists to enhance devotional practice and devotional expression. So I just try to hear the melodies.”
Return to Shiva Station: Kailash Connection
By Jai Uttal