Remembering Ustad Ali Akbar Khan With Alam Khan

Ustad Ali AKbar Khan

Ustad Ali AKbar Khan

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (1922 -2009), the legendary sarode maestro was born on April 22, 1922. He would have been 93 years old today. He spent his formative years in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. His father Ustad Allauddin Khan was a court musician and is the founder of the Maihar Gharana of Hindustani classical music.

Khan sahib as he was known gave his first performance as a teenager and went to on establish a name for himself in India. Then in the 1960s he settled down in Marin county in the San Francisco Bay area, which was the epicenter of the counterculture movement. This was the time of  The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janice Joplin. This is where music of a different kind was born that fused different genres, including Indian classical music.  This music went on to influence millions of people. And it was in the San Francisco Bay area that Khan sahib set up his Ali Akbar College of Music and taught thousands of students Hindustani classical music in the guru-shishiya or teacher-student method that is common in Indian classical music.

We spoke with Khan sahib’s son Alam Khan on how he learnt music from his father and his father’s love for music, food and cars. We also spoke about the digital archives of  Khan sahib’s music, the influence of Maihar gharana of music and what he learnt from his father as a student. We also  spoke about  Annapurna Devi, Khan sahib’s sister, whose student includes Hari Prasad Chaurasia, the famous flautist.


When Khan sahib moved to the San Francisco bay area it was the start of the big counterculture movement and The Grateful Dead were a major part of the San Francisco and Marin county music scene. The Grateful Dead did some early benefit concerts for Khan sahib’s school and also helped with the sound for his concerts. The Grateful Dead “loved my father’s music,” Khan points out. That is kind of  far out when you think about The Grateful Dead and Khan sahib knew each other. Did Khan sahib ever use slang terms like “far out?”  You will have to tune in to find out the answer.

And here is a video of Khan sahib playing an Alap in Misra Kafi at the University of Washington in 1967.

Photo credit: Alam Khan