Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan’s music was magic to the ears of German saxophone player Roger Hanschel, so much so that he not only learned Indian classical music but also started playing ‘kajri’ (a genre of semi-classical singing, popular in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) compositions on saxophone.
Hanschel, a great fan of the shehnai maestro, became interested in Indian classical music in the mid-eighties when he listened to the shehnai recital of Ustad Bismillah Khan for the first time. After that, there was no looking back.
Hanschel visited Varanasi, learning, practising and playing classical and folk tunes with sitar player Deobrat Mishra and tabla player Prashant Mishra.
Now, he plays ‘kajri’ compositions like ‘Mirzapur kaila gulzar’and ‘Kachauri gali soon kaila balamu’ on his saxophone with dexterity.
Speaking about his musical journey, Hanschel, who started playing saxophone at the age of 11, recalls, “I became a great fan of Ustad Bismillah Khan in the 1980s after I got a cassette of his shehnai tunes and listened to them.” Later, he bought some cassettes and CDs containing the work of the Ustad and listened to all of them. Later, he decided to travel to India. He visited Varanasi in 1994 and returned after sometime. In 2013, he visited Varanasi again in his quest to understand the basics of Indian classical music and learned ragas for about a month before going back to Germany.
During his stay, Hanschel came across sitar player Deobrat Mishra and apprised him of his wish to visit the house of the late Ustad. Mishra took him to the Ustad’s house where Hanschel called on Nazim Hussain, son of Bismillah Khan whom he requested to play a musical tribute to the Ustad on his death anniversary.
The German played ‘kajri’ on saxophone as a mark of respect to the great maestro whose son accompanied the saxophone player on tabla.
“For me, it was a matter of great respect to get a chance to pay a tribute to the great maestro at his residence,” Hanschel said, adding that he still felt honoured. Mishra also paid tributes to Ustad by playing the sitar.
Hanschel remained in touch with Mishra and decided to bring the two styles of music close.
Along with Mishra and tabla player Prashant Mishra he formed a group ‘Trio Benaras’ in October 2014. The group composed interesting fusion compositions, which earned laurels in Europe and the western world.
A multi-faceted saxophone player and composer of contemporary jazz, Hanschel wants to add shades of Indian classical music to his compositions. He finds jazz close to Indian classical music and loves spending time at Assi ghat.
Before leaving for Mumbai, Hanschel told HT, “Classical music is certainly great. I have learnt its basics and am trying to learn more. I am keen on including classical Indian music in my new compositions while staying true to my roots.”
Hanschel has given around 2,000 performances in 80 countries and attended around 500 jazz festivals. The German’s prized possession is his 50-year-old saxophone instrument. “I love playing the saxophone,” he said, before signing off.