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Natraj Celebrates 16th Anniversary At Regattabar

Ranjani Saigal

Integrating Indian and Jazz music Phil Scarff and his band Natraj have been successful in bringing a creative musical idiom to the Indian and Jazz music scene in New England. They recently performed at the Regattabar at the prestigious Charles Hotel in Cambridge MA. The performance was a pleasant musical experience that reached out to Indian and Jazz music aficionados.

At the Regattabar Natraj featured the soprano saxophone of Phil Scarff; special guest bamboo-flute and soprano-saxophone virtuoso Steve Gorn; the warm, nimble solidity of bassist Michael Rivard; the tabla and multipercussion mastery of Jerry Leake; and high-energy groove of drummer Bertram Lehmann.

Each brought their individuality to the creation. Jerry Leake with his mastery over world percussion was able to bring rhythms from Africa and India to Cambridge. The soothing notes from the Bansuri of Steve Gorn, the special presentation by Phil Scarff on the saxophone was perfectly complimented by the superb string manipulations by the bassist Michael Rivard.

The first half featured Song of the Swan, composed by T. K. Ramakrishnan and Phil Scarff Kanya Waltz, composed by Phil Scarff, T. K. Ramakrishnan, and V. A. Aravindakshan, a Ahir Bhairav, composition in rupaktal by S. G. Devasthali, composition in ektal by Jaganathbua Purohit, The Ride, composed by Phil Scarff and the Nectar of the Gods, composed by Marc Rossi and Phil Scarff.

In the second half, Sunrise in Chennai, composed by T. K. Ramakrishnan and Phil Scarff Bageshri-Bageshwari, composed by Phil Scarff, Pathos of the Descending Night, composed by Marc Rossi and Phil Scarff, For You, Gahu, composed by Phil Scarff were presented. The music moved some members of the audience to dance.

I had an opportunity to chat with the Phil Scarff in his home in Winchester, MA. I was impressed with his sincere interest and passion to create and perform music drawing from different World Music traditions. He has spent years studying with different teachers including leading sundry player Suryakant Khaladkar, vocalist Pandit Shreeram G. Devasthali, shehnai master Shyamrao Lonkar, Sitraist Peter Row, saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi and percussion great Bob Gullotti. He has worked hard to put the Natraj band together and to keep it going for the past sixteen years. He is married to Dr. Megha Joshi and has three daughters.

“Natraj is special because I have the opportunity to work with some amazing musicians. Other than those that performed at the Regatta bar we also have Violist Mat Maneri who is a very well respected musician in the Jazz world as are my other colleagues,” says Phil Scarff. In response to a question on the meaning of fusion, “ We use that term only because the music industry likes to classify music. I think all music is constantly evolving gathering influences from other traditions” says Scarff.

At what point was he drawn to Indian music? “I am not sure I can quite pinpoint when and how this happened. As a Jazz musician the improvisational aspect of Indian music really appealed to me. My association with Warren Senders and Jerry Leake took me to India where I learnt with some of the finest musicians. I have enjoyed working with V.A.Aravindakshan and T.K.Ramakrishnan composing music for Jothi Raghavan’s dance productions.”

Why does he continue to hold on to his Engineering profession if music is his passion?” Music does not always give us enough to be able to have a home and family. I am very impressed with the way my colleagues in Natraj have managed a full time music career. But it is not easy for them. I really enjoy taking care of my three little girls. Even fulltime musicians take on teaching jobs to supplement their incomes. For me that income comes from my engineering profession. I work only part-time though. Music is my life”

What is the goal for Natraj? Scarff smiles and says“ Make more music and get gigs where presenters do not hassle us for the payments etc. As you know well the music business is not easy.”

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Phil Scarff (Saxophone), Mat Maneri (Viola), Michael Rivard (Bass), Bertram Lehmann (Drums), Jerry Leake (Tabla)

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