‘My Video Playlist’ – Jonathan Mayer

Posted on by Archana

Son of the late Kolkata composer John Mayer, Jonathan began his musical training at the early age of 5 with violin from his grandfather Albert Hepton, piano from James Methuen-Campbell and composition from his father. At the age of 16 he started his sitar training under the western sitarist Clem Alford who was a disciple of Sachindra Nath Saha from the Senia gharana. In 1993 Jonathan began studying composition from Andrew Downes as well as sitar at the Birmingham Conservatoire where he gained a B.Mus (Hons). After graduating he studied Imdadkhani gharana technical proficiency under Ustad Wajahat Khan and finally settled in to the Senia veen-kar Gharana under the extremely knowledgeable maestro the late Pandit Subroto Roy Chowdhury.














Jonathan has composed extensively for many genres including jazz, Indian & symphonic writing. His works have been performed and commissioned by The London Philharmonic Orchestra, Erich Gruenburg, Joji Hattori, his father’s band Indo-Jazz Fusions and many others. Jonathan can be heard on many soundtracks & films including Sarah Brightmans’ Eden, Kevin Spaceys’ Beyond the sea, Indian Summer (Channel 4), Victoria & Abdul (where he can be seen on film) and Salty. Jonathan is also co-founder of First Hand Records Ltd which was formed in 2007 to promote is father’s works, since then FHR has established itself as a label releasing exceptional music across many genres.

MORE: www.jonathanmayer.co.uk

Jonathan’s Picks:

1) What is the concert/recording/track you listen to the most? And why?

This live concert from 1983 in San Francisco seems to capture the very essence of the genre. It has lyrical beauty, spontaneity and portrays the romantic nature of the raga perfectly. It also has wonderful accompaniment from Zakir Hussain who never intrudes on to the melodic development.

 2) Which artists do you watch for inspiration? What do you like about those tracks / artists / concerts?

It has to be Nikhil Banerjee, like Krishna Bhatt who is of the same Gharana he has such lyrical beauty that the meend (glissando between notes) becomes secondary and is only really there to make the melodic line even more beautiful. He came to life in live performance as oppose to the recording studio and a recording of a 1970 concert shows how he develops Raga Hement from Alap to Drut Teental. Unfortunately there isn’t a clip for this so you will just have to buy the album!

3) Can you recommend a Hindustani and a Carnatic music track that inspires you the most? Why?

Gopal Shankar Mishra was a Vichitra Veena player, he died tragically young. In 1999 he recorded this album for Real World Records in West England, returned to India and a month later died on stage. This album his truly his epitaph.

4) Can you share a concert recording from non-Indian musician that inspires you?

Oh….there are so many!! To start with Maceo Parker for his stage presence.

Tower of Power, I saw this band live in 1998. I have never heard such a tight ensemble with great horn writing and just check out the organ solo on this track.

Irakere, I have released a live album of this band on my label www.firsthandrecords.com and it was this concert that I went to in 1995. Pure energy, fantastic!

5) Can you share any concerts of Film composers, or an album, or a classical artists concert which you like? Why?

Vertigo by Bernard Hermann, this landmark recording was one of the first ‘close mic’ orchestral recordings and meant Hermann could write for celeste and harp and bring them out in the mix. Also, it is fantastic orchestration that give you a feel of vertigo.

6) Tell us about another artist outside the Indian genre that you like?

Bach and Beethoven; seems like I have just chosen 2 famous composer but let me explain myself.

Bach was not the first to write in this style as organist in Denmark were doing so beforehand but Bach was truly a master in counterpoint. Counterpoint means playing more than one melodic line at the same time and making them work, now imagine writing 4 (called a Fugue) and making that work! It is very different to Indian music but have a listen to this Prelude and Fugue as the opening has a long ‘pedal’ (this means holding down a note for a long time, a bit like a drone) which makes me think of modal music (like a raga).

Beethoven was truly ahead of his time and was constantly thinking out of the box. This piece (Grosse Fugue) was written in 1826, one year before his death and was condemned at the time as “incomprehensible, like Chinese” and “a confusion of Babel”. Even to our modern ears is sounds avantgarde and at the time it was deemed that Beethoven had gone mad. On the contrary, he was just a genius.

7) Can you share a video which demonstrates a great interaction between two artists on stage, something that inspires you?

Krishna Bhatt and Zakir Hussain and this recording was taken from a series of concerts they did in 1983 on the west coast. You can tell they are having the time of their lives socially and musically, pure joy and upaj.

8) Recommend a great music concert or recording.

I have always admired Steve Riech as his drone based minimalism feel close to Indian music, this recording of his orchestra work Four Sections is beautiful.

And for my Indian selection it would have to be any of Zakir Hussain’s solo concerts as he is such a musical percussionist.

9) Can you share some videos of your guru and contemporaries – one from your guru – and tell us about it.


Dada, just like Krishna Bhatt and Banerjee, has a keen eye for melodic development and not only that his Beenkar style of playing make his standout stylistically to others. This can be heard in my Gurubhai’s playing Indrajit Roy Chowdhury.

10) And one from your colleagues or contemporaries in India or England?

Clem Alford is somewhat over looked nowadays but it was him who really started me on the sitar and it is this recording of my father’s work that made me want to start learning.

11) What are you doing next?

Although 2020 hasn’t really been the best of years so far for the arts I have been busy. In February 2020 I record a piece called Pranam and my 2nd Sitar Concerto with The BBC National Orchestra of Wales and it due to be released later this year on www.firsthandrecords.com.

I am also looking to start writing a series of pieces called Raga Music for Solo Instruments where I will notated a solo raga performance for a western instrumentalist and be performed with tabla.

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