Born in Allahabad, Ajay Prasanna's guru was his father, renowned flautist Pandit Bholanath Prasanna of the Banaras Gharana. He was also the guru of Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia.
When Ajay Prasanna was born, the flute was among the first sounds he responded to. His father, the legendary flautist Pandit Bhola Nath Prasanna, would fill their home with an endless pouring of musical ecstasy and his son plunged himself in its fullness.
As an inquisitive three-year-old, Ajay would perch up to the window of the riyaaz (practice) room to watch his father absorbed in the music. This served as an early influence for his interest in learning the instrument.
He remembers that he was just three when he was given the flute. “I performed at the age of six in the All India Music Competition held in Allahabad, and stood first.”
How Pt. Bhola Nath was a stickler for perfection, how he insisted on an early morning and late night riyaaz, how he would call out students who were making a mistake even when he was in the bathroom.... “His ears were trained to catch even the slightest aberration. It is not always about learning the new but unlearning the wrong, he told everybody.”
How he would quickly change from one raga to another while teaching his students was wondrous to watch. The classes were penetrative because the students weren’t allowed to write or record, and so everybody gave their full attention to memorising and understanding what was being imparted.
Talking of his teaching style, Pt. Ajay Prasanna says, “His style was unique. He would take just one raga and make us work on it for months together. When he would realise that our understanding of the raga is good enough, he would tell us, ‘now just change this note or a particular chalan (movement) of notes and it will become a different raga.’ Then he would switch over to the taleem of that raga. I would perceive all that from an early age. I have not forgotten this style of teaching till date and at times try to explain it to my students as well, the same way.”
He remembers how he would explain the difference between Puriya, Marwa and Sohini in such simple ways that one would grasp it immediately. “If I made a mistake while playing, his first reaction would be, ‘you have forgotten everything’, but then he would explain it all over again till the fundamentals were clear to us.”
“His ears were always on our practice whether he was sitting in front, or having a walk in the lawn outside. He would shout from there only, ‘what are you doing? Pay attention to your notes.’ If a tihai has missed the exact sam, he would make me calculate from which matra it would fit perfectly into the given time frame.”
The notes of his melodious flute pervaded all over their home and Ajay was totally fascinated by the tunefulness of his flute. “I still remember how as a kid I would reach the window of his practice room and at times even would fall asleep beneath the window, while listening to him.”
As a result, Ajay started playing professionally at age 8 and began travelling for performances by 12. Now after three decades in professional music and three Grammy Award nominations, he feels he has begun to gain stability that was his father’s virtue.
Ajay’s solo at the show will be a confluence of wind (flute), string (santoor) and rhythm (tabla). While his piece is dedicated to Lord Shiva, he says, it is also an extension of reverence towards his father in equal measure.
His extraordinary flute and passion for music endeared him to legends such as Pt. Ravi Shankar, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pt. Kishan Maharaj and Vidushi Girija Devi.”
Ajay Prasanna is a superb musician, blending the modern with the traditional to create music that is melodious and unique. He is also known for his strength and fluency in both the gaayaki and tantrakaari styles of playing. His first performance was at the Allahabad Akhil Bhartiya Sangeet Sammelan at the age of six. He has since performed several times including solo concerts in London, Dubai, Singapore, Bangkok, Kenya and Russia. He has had the opportunity to perform alongside renowned classical music maestros like Pt. Ravi Shankar, Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Ustad Sultan Khan and Shubha Mudgal. He has also played in several fusion music concerts with Anoushka Shankar, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan and collaborated with Sting. A worthy musician like Ajay Prasanna deserves this worthy introduction.
-Ajay Shanker Prasanna-