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Jazzing it up

Vijay Iyer (left) and Rudresh Mahanthappa are well-known American jazz musicians.

A cascade of American and Western musicians have come to India over the years and decades to learn, and occasionally master, Indian music - both Hindustani and Carnatic.

The pioneer of recorded Hindustani music, Gauhar Jan, was in fact an Armenian. A Massachusetts native named Jon Higgins so mastered Carnatic music that he was awarded the honorific "Bhagavatar". But it's rare that Indian musicians have made a splash in Western forms of music.

The late Freddie Mercury (Farrokh Balsara) of Queen? Nyah... Say hello to Rudresh Mahanthappa and Vijay Iyer of New York, rising stars in the American jazz world and toast of the Indian-American musical cognoscenti. The duo, who have played together occasionally and even cut an album (Raw Materials) in 2006, have hit the high spots throughout the noughties without as much as a whisper of recognition in India, land of their forbears. Not surprising, since jazz has been in downswing in India following the fading out of jazz yatra and the uptick in Bollywood buzz.

But back in the US, the Indian-Americans are star performers. Born in Trieste, Italy and growing up in Boulder, Colorado, Rudresh was rated the nation's No 1 alto saxophonist in the 2011 Downbeat critics poll, a big leap from being merely rated as a "rising star" in 2010. Meanwhile, the pianist Vijay Iyer's album Historicity was nominated for a Grammy in 2010. Both of them have had Indian collaborations - Rudresh with Carnatic classical saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath and Vijay with percussionist Trichy Sankaran. We only need them to "come together" and play in India.

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