Dear Friends and music lovers. Welcome to the musical life section. I’d like to remind you that frequently, we record a Cd or a DVD and it appears the following year on the market. Also, I am often working on several projects at different stages of completion. They don’t always move in a linear manner and do tend to overlap each other, so I hope you won’t find this new format confusing: to the contrary we hope it’s simpler and perhaps more entertaining. Thanks for visiting! John McLaughlin
2012 - Remember Shakti - 4th Dimension
This year’s events began with my 70th birthday which was produced and directed by one of my oldest and dearest friends, Zakir Hussain. It was held in Mumbai India on January 4th and I’ll never forget it. He put on a show to end all shows with dancers, singers, a Qawwali group that was just outstanding, and most important of all, surrounded by my family and friends from all over the world. A month later, I came back to make a tour of India by the group Shakti. Every couple of years or so, Shakti tours India and it’s always a thrill. On St. Valentine’s day February 14th we played a charity concert in Ramallah for Al-Mada who are doing music therapy with traumatized children.
In June the 4th Dimension flew to Ukraine to headline a great Festival held in Lviv.
A month later Shakti got back together for a short tour of Russia. We appeared in different festivals in Krasnoyarsk, one of the largest cities in Siberia, in Perm which is in the Urals, and Moscow. It was very interesting to be able to visit these places that years ago were hidden behind the ‘iron curtain’. The people of Russia are so friendly.
The 4th Dimension will return to Russia this fall during its European tour which begins in France late October and finishes at the end of November. This is just in time for tabla maestro Zakir Hussain to join me for a charity performance in Prague on November 28th.
The new recording by the 4th Dimension, is being released as I write, and I am very happy with this recording. The group has never sounded better
2006-2011 - 4th Dimension - India
In 2004 I had received an invitation from a French cultural association to play a couple of concerts in La Reunion, a tropical island off the coast of Africa near Madagascar. I’d been having thoughts about a quartet prior to this invitation, and since they gave me carte blanche, I decided to form a quartet with Gary Husband, drummer Mark Mondesir and his brother Michael on bass. The experience was exhilarating, and I knew I had to find a way to keep working in this direction. However, I had begun writing new music that was subsequently released on the album ‘Industrial Zen’ which was a multi-artist recording. Gary Husband and Mark Mondesir appeared on several pieces. It was after the release of this Cd that the group ‘The 4th Dimension’ emerged as a ‘real’ band, and started touring. Since then, we recorded ‘to the One’ and released a live DVD from a concert in Belgrade.
In the autumn of 2011, we toured Europe with drummer Ranjit Barot who had replaced Mark Mondesir, and in December of 2011, the band went into the studio to record ‘Now Here This’. Ranjit is an outstanding drummer who accompanied me on the recording ‘Floating Point’ which was recorded in 2007. This was the year I spent 6 months in Chennai, India and it was a very creative time. We not only recorded Floating Point, but also filmed the entire process of making the recording. It was released later under the title, ‘Meeting of the Minds’. In addition, an educational DVD was made with percussionist and Shakti member, Selvaganesh Vinayakram. The DVD was subsequently released under the title ‘The Gateway to Rhythm’. It shows the way to mastering rhythm through the Indian system called Konokol. Now while this system was created in India, the ramifications are universal and can be applied in any form of rhythmic music.
2003-2005 - Orchestral - Educational Projects
In 2003 I began re-writing a piece for guitar and chamber orchestra that began life under the name ‘Europa’. I gave it this name primarily because the principal influences behind this piece are European in nature. However, by the third movement, the piece has crossed the Atlantic ocean and comes under the influence of the great music of the 20th century, jazz. I wanted to re-orchestrate for a full symphony, and in addition add 4 more soloists.
Fortunately I had the expertise of one of my oldest students, Yan Maresz, who is now one of the leading composers in the world of contemporary music, and while I wrote the music, the orchestrations are his. The soloists are all outstanding musicians: Violinist Viktoria Mullova, clarinetist Paul Meyer, cellist Matt Heimovitz and guitarist Philippe Loli. The piece was renamed ‘Thieves & Poets’ and finally came out under that name with a great Italian orchestra, Pomeriggi Musicali di Milano under the direction of Renato Rivolta.
However, the piece with the original orchestration by Yan, continues to be performed by other guitarists and orchestras.
In 2004 we began work on what ended up as a major project. It came out 18 months later as an educational DVD box set called ‘This is the way I do it’. It is the most comprehensive work I’ve ever done as far as integrating into a coherent system, everything I’ve learned that has shed light upon the way music can be taught in general, and improvisation in particular.
1998-2003 - Remember Shakti
In 1997 I was invited by Zakir Hussain to help him reform the original Shakti group, but we were unable to pull it off. What we did do was get percussionist T.H. Vinayakram and flautist Hari Prasad Chaurasia together and we toured the UK recording a live concert during the tour.
By the time the tour was over Zakir and I really wanted to continue and develop Shakti music where we left off in 1978, 20 years previously! Once again we were not able to reform the original, so we decided to invite ‘Mandolin’ Shrinivas, and Vikku’s son Selvaganesh to make it a quartet again. It’s such a great band. However, in 1999 I start looking for a vocalist to join us and find singer Shankar Mahadevan. He joins Zakir and me in a festival we played in Bombay in 2000, and he’s been in the band ever since. This is some band and what a history!
1997 - The Heart of Things
Even though I just toured and recorded with Paco and Al, I’m very quickly back into electric mode and form another band. ‘The Heart of Things’. Dennis Chambers is back with me with tenor man Gary Thomas, Matt Garrison on bass, Jim Beard and Otmaro Ruiz, (two different recordings). One is a studio album recorded in Milan, and the second is live in Paris released in 2000. What a band!
1996 - The Guitar Trio
The Promise’ is yet another multi-artist recording with once again many dear friends and musicians. I finally get to record with one of the all-time greatest players, Michael Brecker on tenor. There are many more great players on this album, the guitar trio with Paco and Al, to mention another, Dave Sanborn, Zakir, Trilok , this list is long and beautiful.
1993-1995 - The Free Spirits - JM Trio
By this time Trilok is moving more away from the trio, and it’s basically impossible to replace him, so by 1993-94 the trio ends. Personally, I am also moving towards the electric guitar again and with drummer Dennis Chambers and Hammond Organist Joey DeFrancesco, I form the trio ‘The Free Spirits’. This is one great band and two beautiful human beings. We tour the world once again, and during a stint at the Blue Note Tokyo, we record a live album. Around this time I’d been thinking of asking Elvin Jones to record with me and Joey DeFrancesco, which is the After the Rain recording. We also played some concerts in Europe together, but unfortunately never in the US.
1987-1993 - The JM Trio
After playing some duo concerts with bassist Jonas Hellborg, I invite percussionist Trilok Gurtu to join us to form a trio, but by the time the trio is formed Jonas has been replaced by bassist Jeff Berlin. Oddly, Jeff stays with the trio for only 6 months and he in turn is replaced by bassist Kai Eckhardt. This is the trio that is featured on the live recording ‘Live at the Royal Festival Hall’. The brazilian and hispanic influences that were so prominent with the guitar trio and The Translators, are still here, but they are now fused with the masterly percussion of Trilok who brings in once again, the lovely Indian influence that has been so much part of my life. By this time technology has given me a guitar synth that works with the acoustic guitar, and this is a great combination. Kind of ‘antique and modern’. You can hear this on the two recordings we made ‘Royal Festival Hall’ live, and a studio recording with bassist Dominique di Piazza called ‘Que Alegria’.
1980-1985 - Original Guitar Trio - The Translators
My leaning towards the acoustic guitar coincided with my hearing guitarist Paco de Lucia on French radio one day. I managed to find his number and called him to propose playing/working together. He was up for it so I called an old friend and great guitar player Larry Coryell, and the guitar trio was born. From the first it was an amazing success. However, by the end of 1980, Larry had left and Al di Meola came in and replaced him. The guitar trio went from success to success. Of course, this was a time when there was no Internet and no pirating, and record sales were great. Over the years we’ve recorded another album and toured the world. This is a fine recording, and satisfying musically.
During this period I move towards another kind of jazz fusion with another quite short lived group known loosely as the Translators. We recorded two albums for Warner Bros: ‘Belo Horizonte’ and ‘Music spoken Here’. I was going though a musically transitional period, and the music on these recordings reflect this movement. That said, I’m still today very happy with these two recordings.
1979 - The One Truth Band
My shortest lived band was the One Truth Band. It was formed in ’79 and while it was a great band which included L. Shankar, I was gravitating more and more towards the acoustic guitar. I hope that the Montreux Festival in Switzerland will release a DVD of a concert this band played there because it’s a real document. There is a Cd ‘Electric Dreams’, a recording that featured a different rhythm section, drummer Tony Smith and assist Fernando Saunders. The original was drummer Sonship, and bassist T.M. Stevens. Now while these two rhythm sections are radically different, they are both outstanding and well worth a listen.
1975-1978 - Shakti
By this time is was clear to me that India and its culture, musical and philosophical, had become a part of my life, and it remains so to this day. In 1972 and primarily under the influence of the great South Indian vina player Balachander, I was studying vina under master Ramanathan at Wesleyan College Connecticut. Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain and I had become friends already in 1969, and having met violinist L. Shankar who was teaching also at Wesleyan, by 1973-4 Shakti was born. By the end of 1975 mridangam player Ramnad Raghavan had been replaced by T.H. Vikku Vinayakram whose speciality was Ghatam, but not before CBS had recorded a live concert we played at NYU in Southampton Long Island. This was the first Shakti recording. From 1976 until the end of 1978 Shakti toured the world. One of my fondest memories is the time Shakti spent playing concerts opposite Weather Report. This was a hot combination at this time. By 1978 Vikku had to return to Madras to take over the school for percussion his father had founded some years before.
1971-1975 - Mahavishnu
After a club date in Boston in 1970 with Miles, he tells me it’s time to form my own band.
By this time Miles’ recordings are definitely jazz fusion or jazz rock. His recording ‘Bitches Brew’ confirmed this in no uncertain terms. My work and writing with Tony was more and more rock, r ‘n b and funk influenced. Also I was increasingly influenced by the philosophical and musical ideas coming out of India at that time. These influences can be seen in that another name ‘Mahavishnu’ was given to me by my guru Sri Chinmoy, and the sophisticated rhythmical concepts integrated in Indian classical music, both north and south which directly influenced the compositions i was writing for The Mahavishnu Orchestra. The M.O. became really popular over a short period of time, maybe too successful since by 1973 the atmosphere in the band had become untenable for me and we ended it at the end of the year.
The 2nd Mahavishnu was quite different but a wonderful band all the same, with drummer Michael Narada Walden, Jean-Luc Ponty and Ralphe Armstrong, that band was kicking!
We had a great experience recording with the London Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, and the entire production under the great George Martin.
At the same time in Indian influence was having its effect and by 1973-4 Shakti was a kind of underground band that played small concerts in churches and schools, while I continued with Mahavishnu. By the end of 1975, Shakti had become increasingly important to me, and by the end of the year, it became my only band.
1968-1970 - Miles Davis - Tony Williams Lifetime
After a jam with drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland in Ronnie Scott’s club in London, Jack plays a recording of it to Tony Williams and he gets me the gig with Tony and Lifetime. Rounding off the trio is Khaled Yaseen (Larry Young) on Hammond Organ. This is a real thrill for me. I’ve been listening to Tony with Miles since 1964 and he’s the greatest. He and Elvin Jones were the two most revolutionary drummers of the 20th century. By this time I’ve had the experience of having my own band, but I’ve been mainly a sideman with a number of fine musicians in the UK, but living from playing in R ‘n B and funk bands such as Georgie Fame, Graham Bond, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. Even though I was under the musical and spiritual influence of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, I was happy to be playing R ‘n B. by this time (mid to late 1960’s) most musicians were being influenced by the Beatles, the Motown group of musicians and Jimi Hendrix, especially guitar players.
By the time I arrive in New York, I’d just passed my 27th birthday, and playing with Tony and Khalid was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The times were pretty wild at the end of the 1960’s and the music followed the times. My good luck didn’t end there as I found myself in the studio with Miles a day after my arrival in New York for the recording of ‘In a Silent Way’. Miles’ influence on me went into hyperdrive from that point, and I had the best of all possible musical worlds: playing and recording with Tony and Lifetime, and Miles Davis.
I was already under the influence of Indian music and thought, which one can see reflected in the LP ‘My Goal’s Beyond’. It’s also a reflection of my affection for the acoustic guitar.
‘Love Devotion Surrender’. This recording was made in between two Mahavishnu tours, and was a great experience. I’d met Carlos Santana in 1971 and we’d become good friends. We recorded this album and went on to tour but only in the USA. It was an all-star lineup with drummer Billy Cobham, Dougie Rauch on bass, Armando Peraza percussion and the late great Larry Young (Khalid Yasin) on Hammond organ. Since then Carlos and I have played many times together, and last year we celebrated 40 years of friendship with a concert in Switzerland. Perhaps it will be released on DVD one day.
‘Electric Guitarist’. This was the first multi-artist recording that I made, and though it was a lot of work, I listen to this recording with a smile on my face. Many friends came: Tony Williams, Jack Bruce, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Sanborn, Carlos and many more. Great experience!
‘Mahavishnu’ and ‘Adventures in Radioland’ These two albums were recorded with a band that carried the name ‘Mahavishnu’ but for the last time. It was a great band with Bill Evans on tenor, Mitch Foreman keyboards and Jonas Hellborg on bass. I had a Synclavier guitar during this period which in spite of its limitations, was a real instrument that could be played live with no glitches. We toured the US and Europe and recorded a show at the Montreux Jazz festival that came out on DVD with a video recording of the 2nd Mahavishnu a few years back. Bill played tenor and soprano with Miles when Miles made his comeback, and we had a lot of laughs with the stories we both have with him.
I got a commission from the Los Angeles Symphony to write a piece for guitar and orchestra. Miles comes to the premier and I’m thrilled. Fast forward a couple of years and I’ve recorded the piece with the London Symphony directed by my old friend conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. I’m in Edinburgh and run into Miles and we hang out after the concert and I give him an audio tape of the recording. We sit in his hotel room while he listens to the whole piece. At the end he turns to me and says, » John, now you can die »…
Time Remembered was first and foremost a homage to pianist Bill Evans who has been a continual inspiration throughout my life. Secondly it was a homage to the guitar. I always believed it was possible to capture Bill’s poetic melancholy with the acoustic guitar, and though this recording was a true labor of love, in the end the result is lovely. For this project I invited a quartet of guitarists known as the Aighetta Quartet, and my old friend and ex-student Yan Maresz to play acoustic bass guitar.
I also mention this recording above. It was another dream come true to play and record with Elvin the album ‘After the Rain’. What a beautiful human being… With us was the amazing Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond Organ. Those two together…
Chick Corea calls me up during a six month stay in India with a great idea: the project came out as 5 Peace Band, and what a band. Wonderful players, Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride and Vinnie Colaiuta, and later on the amazing Brian Blade. To play with a musician like Chick is just a marvelous experience. I just marvel when he plays… We made a live record, toured the world, and won a Grammy!.
Carlos Santana and I play a ‘birthday’ concert in Switzerland to celebrate 40 years of friendship. The performance was recorded in audio and video, but has not been released yet.
It’s not the end, but in ending these writings, I have to offer my deepest thanks to all the musicians I’ve mentioned in these notes. They have contributed immensely not only to my musical evolution, but my spiritual evolution also.
Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles.
Theodore Sturgeon: More than Human.
Philip K. Dick: The Transmigration of Timothy Archer,
Philip K. Dick A Handful of Darkness.
Mount Sadhu: The Life of Ramana Maharshi.
Anonymous: The Philosophy of theTarot.
Hazrat Inayat Khan: The Sufi Message. vol. 2 Music. (12 volumes)
D.E. Harding: The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth
Khalil Jibran: The Prophet
The Life of Ramakrishna. Any version
Lobsang Lhalungpa: The Life of Milarepa
Vivekananda: The Works of Vivekananda.
Anonymous. The Way of the Pilgrim.
Carlos Castaneda: The books on Don Juan
Robert Persig: Zen and the art of Motorcycle maintenance.
Father Thomas Merton: The Way of Chuang Tzu
Father Thomas Merton: New Seeds of Contemplation
Alan Watts: The Way of Zen
Nisargadatta Maharaj: I am That
Vikram Chandra: Red Earth & Pouring Rain
Sheng-Yen: The Poetry of Enlightenment
D.T. Suzuki: The Zen Doctrine of No Mind
H.E. Huntley: The Divine Proportion
Aldous Huxley: The Perennial Philosophy
Karen Armstrong: A History of God