Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Zakir Hussain --On his way to Carnegie Hall

This has already been a banner year for Marin's Ustad Zakir Hussain, and it's barely four months old.

At the 51st Grammy Awards in February, Zakir, the greatest tabla drummer of our time, took the contemporary world music album Grammy home with him to San Anselmo for his work on "Global Drum Project" with the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart.

Beginning April 26, the 58-year-old master of Indian classical music curates a five-event "Perspectives" series at Carnegie Hall, celebrating the scope of his collaborative career with the likes of George Harrison, Van Morrison, Pharaoh Sanders, John McLaughlin and a pantheon of rock and jazz greats.

The series in his honor has him once again in the company of the finest players in contemporary

Audio: Hussain and Sharma - Drut Gat

music, among them banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, genre-busting double-bassist Edgar Meyer and as one-third of an trio with drummer-pianist Eric Harland and jazz saxophonist/composer Charles Lloyd.

Of their trio, Lloyd says it "swings like a (expletive). You can hear the blues, and you can hear prayers, and it can put a smile on your face and a lift in your step."

Zakir kicks off the Carnegie Hall series, a partnership with the World Music Institute, performing an evening of Indian classical music with his childhood friend Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, the undisputed master of the santoor, an ancient stringed instrument considered the elder brother of the American hammered dulcimer.

And here's the cool part for those of us who aren't in a

position to travel 3,000 miles to hear Zakir and Sharma in Carnegie Hall. We don't have to. They will be right here April 11, playing in the 2,000-seat Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium, a stop on their "Maestros in Concert" tour.

"What's nice for me is that it's rare that Indian classical musicians get presented at Marin Center," Zakir told me by phone from Louisville, Ky., hours before his concert there, the fourth of the tour. "Ali Akbar Khan has played there, and maybe Ravi Shankar once or twice. But it's rare that it happens. I'm really looking forward to it."

Plus Marin is his home turf. Born in Mumbai, the son of the tabla immortal Ustad Alla Rakha, Zakir has lived in San Anselmo since he came to Marin in the fall of 1971 to teach at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, now in its 42nd year.

"I love this place," he said. "Not to mention the fact that I ran into some fabulous musicians here. Mickey Hart is one of them."

Over the years, Zakir has recorded and toured with Hart aggregations, including Planet Drum, winning the first world music Grammy with that group in 1991.

Marin is also where he met his wife, kathak dancer and teacher Antonia Minnecola. They have two daughters, Anisa, 27, a film producer whose movie "Splinterhead" just premiered at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin; and 24-year-old Isabella, who teaches ballet and modern dance at Dance Theater 7 in Fairfax.

Zakir tours constantly with McLaughlin, with Hart's various aggregations and with his own groups. He's just gotten back from India, where he performed during the country's annual concert season, which began in November and ended in March.

Now he's back on the road with Sharma, playing 20 shows across the country through mid-April.

"I miss home," he confessed. "In fact I was so homesick the day before yesterday that, after finishing a concert in Ann Arbor, Mich., I flew home to be with my wife and daughters for about 18 hours. It was very nice to see them. I took the red-eye back last night and arrived here in Louisville two hours ago."

Zakir is famous for his work with rock, pop and jazz stars, but he hasn't forgotten his roots in Indian classical music, and he doesn't want it to be lost in the conflation of the traditional with the contemporary.

"Every other year I do a countrywide tour of Indian classical music featuring one of the maestros in a straight duo," he explained. "This year it's with Shivkumar Sharma. I worry that with so much musical interaction, with fusion, with world music, with whatever you want to call it, the traditional art forms may not survive. The idea of this tour is to make sure that people don't forget what the source is."

By performing in Marin, Zakir hopes to call attention to the Ali Akbar College, founded in 1967 by the ailing master, Ali Akbar Khan, known to his students and disciples as Khansahib.

"This month is his 87th birthday," Zakir noted. "He's on dialysis three days a week, and it's very difficult for him to get up and teach. He still attempts to teach for an hour or so a week and we're all praying that he'll make it, that he teaches some more, but the future of the college needs to be decided so that even after him it will continue. We are hoping if major Indian music shows start happening in Marin that will help in some way."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Art of Knowing Proust

With more than 200 reproductions of artwork such as Johannes Vermeer, Bolinas artist Eric Karpeles has brought the works referenced in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time to life for readers.
Not many people dare to read Proust, that most intimidating of writers, let alone a high school kid.

But Bolinas artist Eric Karpeles scaled Proust's 3,000-page mountain of a novel, "In Search of Lost Time," more commonly known as "Remembrance of Things Past," when he was a teenager.

"I was fortunate to have a very perceptive teacher when I was in high school," he said. "He knew that I was a reader, that I should be exposed to the first volume of the novel. It was such a remarkable experience, I went on to read the whole book."

Since then, the 54-year-old painter, who lived in France in the 1970s, studying on fellowships at la Cite des Arts in Paris and the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, has read the great French writer's epic about art and memory once a decade.

To help less-courageous readers of all ages, he spent four years writing "Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to 'In Search of Lost Time,'" published last year by Thames & Hudson, a prestigious British company.

At the 28th annual Northern California Book Awards on April 19 in San Francisco, he was honored with a special recognition award for his efforts.

An esoteric hit, the first printing of 6,500 sold out in seven weeks at $45 a copy, and private sellers on have been asking as much as $285 for a first edition book. A second printing at the original price will be available this month.

Illustrated by more than 200 reproductions accompanied by the passage that references the painting, Karpeles' book is an easy reading coffee table guide to the artists and the works that Proust referred to in his long and winding narrative.

The New York Times said "it fills a long-standing gap in the huge shelf of books É devoted to navigating and understanding the novel."

In its review, the Wall Street Journal wrote that "anyone who has devoted any time to reading 'In Search of Lost Time' will be grateful for the chance, at last, to look closely at the painterly sources of so many allusions. But there is no need to know the novel or its characters to admire the prose or the visual display, or to grasp the interpenetration of the two É each made vivid by Mr. Karpeles' matchings of text and art."

A reader reviewer on wondered "why nobody had the idea before."

Karpeles asked himself the same question, and found that, for whatever reason, such a book didn't exist.

While rereading "In Search of Lost Time" after turning 50, he decided that he was as qualified as anyone to write the book, filling the void between the intersection of Proust's literature and his novel's visual aesthetics.

"I started at the beginning of the book, and every time I came across a reference to a painting or a painter, I made a note of it," he explained. "When I was done, I had over 300 slips of paper in my book. Half of them were paintings I knew, and half I didn't know. I'm somebody who spends my life in museums and I'm a painter myself, so I figured that if I didn't know all of them, other people aren't likely to know them either."

It wasn't practical or affordable for Karpeles to travel all over Europe, tracking down paintings so he could look at the originals. So he did most of his research and detective work online.

"It's the kind of book that would probably not be doable before the Internet without a huge allocation of funds for travel," he said. "A lot of this stuff is in France and Italy.

"But it's interesting to note that Proust didn't see all the original paintings he was writing about, either. He wrote this at a time (1909 through 1922) when art journals and monographs were first coming into print. So he benefited enormously from reproductions."

Probably the most famous example of that is in the love story between the tortured character Charles Swann, who falls for the faithless courtesan Odette de Crecy because she resembles a woman in a Botticelli fresco.

"That fresco is in the Vatican, but Proust never went to Rome, so he never saw it," Karpeles noted. "So here's a painting Proust knew by reproduction only. And just as I wasn't able to see every painting in the book, nor did he see every one. He was writing 100 years when there was enormous technological change in the world, just as we're going through now."

Karpeles recently gave a talk on "Paintings in Proust" for 150 people at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station, sparking the formation of a Proust reading group.

"The feedback I get on the book from so many people is that they never expected to read Proust, but my book breaks Proust down into a digestible format, so that you begin to see what it's all about," he said. "And if you really like what you're reading, it might prompt you to read the whole thing. As an advocate of reading Proust, that's a great secondary effect."


For more information on the Proust reading group,e-mail Arianne Dar at

Contact Paul Liberatore via e-mail at

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Birds of Prey in Marin County

Click to see video!

Birds of prey are like the rock stars of wildlife.
People love to be around them and act kind of awe-struck when they see them up close and personal.

That was certainly the case Saturday afternoon at the first Birds of Prey Day at the Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross.

"Raptors are cool," Allen Fish, director of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, told an audience of more than 100 hawk enthusiasts at the unusual event, a fundraiser for the Hungry Owl Project Raptor Rescue program.

Because 30,000 hawks pass through Marin during their annual fall migration and 19 species make the county their permanent home, Fish said Marin has earned the title of "raptor Wonderland."

And, for raptor fans, Saturday's event was like being in hawk

Staring wide-eyed at a rare merlin falcon perched regally on her keeper's gloved wrist, John Lennon, a 56-year-old Ross gardener, was obviously thrilled to be within a foot or two of a bird of prey so swift as to be virtually invisible in flight.

"I've never seen one up close like this before," he said, beaming. "In the wild they fly so fast that you can't focus on them. But to see one up close is fantastic."

All around the Garden Center patio, hawk handlers were showing birds, called "wildlife ambassadors," that the average person never sees so close up without being in a cage.

Mela Brasset of the Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rosa held a majestic red-tailed hawk on her leather-clad wrist as the 4-year-old raptor spread her wings in the afternoon heat. The hawk was stolen out of her nest when she was a juvenile, never learned to hunt and would starve in the wild.
"We take these hawks around to schools as part of our education program," Brasset said, "but the turkey vultures are always the favorites because they inevitably poop and barf. Kids love that."

Falconers showed their birds and prepared them for demonstration flights. Other handlers, including volunteers from Wildcare in San Rafael, showed a peregrine falcon, a one-eyed Swainson hawk, a Harris hawk and a little American kestrel named Kimosabe.

"The kestrel is the world's most perfect hawk," the Raptor Observatory's Allen Fish said. "It's so aggressive that if it were bigger, it would probably kill us all."

Instead, humans are the ones doing the killing of kestrels and other birds of prey, Fish was quick to point out, noting that American kestrels are disappearing at the rate of 4 to 5 percent a year, and are at their lowest population in 20 years.

Red-tailed hawks may be common in Marin, but "two out of three of them won't see their first birthday," Fish said, adding that the first-year mortality rate for raptors is 50 to 70 percent.

The birds are vulnerable to poison, disease, natural predators, climate change, loss of habitat and electrocution from power lines.

After a hawk was electrocuted, caught fire and fell to the ground, igniting a blaze in a Sonoma county vineyard last year, Windsor Vineyards produced the appropriately named Burning Hawk wine. Ten percent of each sale through May 29 will go to avian protection projects, said Wildcare spokeswoman Maggie Rufo.

The Hungry Owl Project, a Wildcare program, is trying to encourage beneficial predators, such as barn owls, to reduce the need for harmful pesticides and poisons to kill rodents, a large part of the raptors diet. One way they are doing that is by building and distributing nest boxes for owls and other birds.

At Saturday's event, Bob Holt, woodshop teacher at San Rafael High, said he and his students have built more than 300 nest boxes for Wildcare.

"The American kestrel is our smallest local falcon, and we can use the boxes to give them a safe place to nest," said Alex Godbe, founder of the Hungry Owl Project. "One of our goals is to protect all beneficial predators."

After listening to the presentation by the Raptor Observatory, Birgitta Akesson, a Novato nurse, said, "I didn't know that we have such a large variety of raptors. I knew they were endangered, but not to this degree."


For information on nest boxes and other raptor rescue programs, go to

Paul Liberatore can be reached at