|Author: Cornish, Rick
|Strumming Are the Sages
Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where, if we had sidewalks instead of dirt paths, and if we were in the habit of having ham and eggs for breakfast, and if I had eggs in my fridge instead of on my SavMart shopping list, I could surely fry them on one, sidewalk that is, so I’ll probably just have Cheerio’s and Lynn will have…Jeez, I don’t even know what Lynn’s eating for breakfast these days, her start time being about four hours later than mine.
In any event, we’ve lost another good Welcomer, at least for the time being, but it’s for an excellent reason. Our young friend Jack Kinney has ditched us for a brand new career as college student and, by my reckoning, that’s one of the best reasons for desertion I can think of. We lost Melinda Faubel that way a few years ago and look at her now, right on the cusp of becoming a big animal vet. So off you go, Jack…stuff that brain of yours while the stuffing is good.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my older boy recently, not sure why, so I’ll re-tell one of my favorite stories about him. It’s a long one so please, friends, know that I wont’ be the least bit offended if you don’t have the time, (or interest), to read the whole thing. (With advanced age I’ve gotten so desensitized that taking offense these days usually requires some sort of physical assault, which, again because of my old-as-dirt status, happens less and less frequently.)
Strumming are the Sages
First appeared in November, 2007
The story of the Sages and how they came to be strumming starts, at least for me, in November of 2000. That was the year my bluegrass band, the Grass Menagerie, first played the Woodland Veterans Day Festival. And it would also be the last time my son Phillip, who’d been playing mandolin and singing in the band for about a year, and I would appear on stage together, at least as fellow band mates. Not long after, Lynn and I would move to Sonora and the wonderful, unforgettable experience of performing regularly with my own child would end. But I wasn’t thinking about that as we climbed back up on stage for our encore. Phil and I sang a duet, Down Where the River Bends, in honor of all the veterans, and the audience loved it. A great set, great audience response…..everything perfect.
Five minutes after we walked off stage I was in the lobby area, where the vendors set up, just soaking up the “way-to-go’s” and “nice-job”‘s and beaming as only a proud band leader AND proud father could. Someone at the membership booth waved me over—it was Suzanne Dension.
“Rick,” she said, “I’ve got some people here who’d like to meet you.” Standing there at the table was a young East Indian couple and their two children. The man and the little boy and little girl wore Western clothes, but the woman was dressed in an Indian sarong and pantaloons.
“Hello, hello Mr. Cornish. I am Tushar Parte and this is my wife, Suchita. And these are our two children. We wanted to meet you and say how very, very much we enjoyed the performance of you and your son. It was very, very wonderful to see and hear you and your son sing and play together.” As he spoke, the Indian grasped my right hand with both of his and shook and shook. And he smiled a broad smile. They all did. And sort of half bowed.
“Well, thank you,” I said stammering and a little embarrassed, “I’m glad you enjoyed the set.”
“Oh yes,” said the woman, “oh yes, we did very, very much. And in particular the music that you and your son made. Phillip, isn’t that right?” Both spoke perfect English, but with deep Indian accents.
“Yes,” I said, “his name is Phil. And I guess you could tell I’m very proud of him.”
“And well you should be,” said the man, “and he, you. And he, you, Mr. Cornish. The music you and your son made together was very moving. Very moving.” And with that he shook my hand again.
And that was that. End of story. A little odd running into an East Indian family in Woodland…..and at a bluegrass festival. Stranger still that they would seek me out to tell me how much they enjoyed our set. But in ten minutes the brief encounter had drifted quickly out of short term memory and I didn’t see the young family for the remainder of the festival.
A year and a half later, to my absolute astonishment, I received an e-mail from my son Phillip that read simply:
“Hi Dad--You’re not going to believe this. Remember the nice Indian people you met at Woodland last year? Well, guess what…..they’re coming to your picking party next week. Tushar and Suchita…….all the way from Bombay. Isn’t that great!
I called Phillip right away and asked for an explanation.
“How do you even know these people,” I asked.
“Simple, after they met you at the Veterans Day Festival, they came and found me. We talked for a while, exchanged cards and we’ve been e-mailing back and forth ever since. Very cool people, Dad. He’s a musician and she’s a singer. They do movies in India, or something like that. And they love bluegrass.”
“And so they’re coming from Bombay, India to Jamestown, U.S.A. to do a little jamming at a picking party? Ooooookay. Son, you’re leaving something out of the story.” And of course there was a lot more to the story, pieces that took some time and patience to pull together and sort out.
In India, as in many countries, fathers pass along to sons their business or profession or line of work from one generation to another. And so it was with the Partes. Tushar’s father was a nationally known and respected musician, composer and music director in the huge Indian motion picture industry centered in Bombay, and so was his grandfather. Naturally, even as a young child, Tushar was expected to follow the family tradition. But his father wanted the boy to have some say in his own destiny, so when Tushar was eleven years old the senior Parte asked him what musical instrument he would like to learn to play. The boy didn’t hesitate. Guitar, he said, six string western guitar…..like those played in America.
Although this was probably not what the father had hoped to hear, within a few weeks Tushar was the proud owner of a brand new Martin guitar and was taking guitar lessons from a young American working in the diplomatic corps there in Bombay. It was love at first pluck! With musician’s genes passed down through a dozen generations, the boy was a natural and soon he was playing western music and classical Indian music alike on the Martin.
Of course Tushar learned many other Indian instruments and studied many genres of Indian music in secondary school and then college, but guitar was always his favorite. Even before college graduation, he was fast-tracking a career in music composition and direction; by twenty-five he’d written and directed scores for half a dozen films. And he’d married Suchita. It was around this time that his former guitar teacher, who’d by now moved up the ranks at the American Consulate in Bombay, called Tushar and invited him to a ‘folk’ concert being hosted by the Embassy. Seemed an American folk group was touring Asia and would stop in Bombay to do a show.
The ‘folk group’ turned out to be the Bluegrass Alliance, and Tushar’s attendance at their show, and subsequent week of jamming and hanging out with Sam Bush and the boys, ignited his passionate love affair with bluegrass music, a love affair that several years later led the film score writer and producer to bring his young family to the United States to attend a real bluegrass festival. And how was it that, of all the bluegrass festivals in the country, Tushar and Suchita Parte would select the tiny Veterans Day Festival in Woodland to fly half way around the globe to visit? Simple, they did an Internet search and the Woodland event was the first to pop up. Ain’t life grand?
So that explains how it was that Suzanne Denison called me over to meet the young Indian family in the lobby of the Ag Exhibit Hall at the Yuba County Fairgrounds in November of 2000. And, indirectly, it also explained why, of all the bands that played the festival, Tushar was so taken with, and interested in, the Grass Menagerie…..and why he began a long-distance friendship with my son Phil. It was the father-son dynamic of our band. One of Tushar’s children was a nine-year-old son and, as tradition dictated, the time was quickly coming when the father would be gently steering the son on a musical path. Seeing my adult son Phillip and I on stage picking and singing together was, he told me later, very ‘affirming’. But flying in from Bombay to a picking party in Jamestown? There had to be more to that story….and soon enough I learned that there was.
‘Picking party’ doesn’t quite do justice to the event Lynn and I had planned for that spring. It was to be a four-day, bring-your-tents-and-campers affair, and by Wednesday people started drifting in. I honestly didn’t believe that Phillip was serious about the Indian couple, that is, until the phone rang Thursday night about 10:00 p.m.
“Hello Rick? Rick, this is Suchita. How are you? We are fine. We are in San Francisco, America. Very close to your home, yes?” (Very close compared to Bombay, I thought, but didn’t say.) Turns our Suchita and Tushar were calling for directions to Jamestown. Their plan was to take a bus the next day from the City up to the Mother Lode. I asked what bus? They didn’t know but figured there must be some bus that would connect the two ‘cities’.
So, ten minutes later I was speeding down 108 toward San Francisco, and three hours later I was headed back the other way, with my two new friends from far, far away. It was on the drive back that I learned the whole story of Tushar, the young son, his father and the guitar and the diplomat and the Bluegrass Alliance and the fateful web browser search that found the Second Annual Veterans Day Festival in Woodland. And I also found out what, besides a bluegrass picking party, had brought Tushar and Suchita just over six thousand miles.
“Here”, he said, handing me a cassette tape in the darkness as we sped east over the Altamont Pass, “here is ‘Strumming are the Sages.’” I fumbled around and got it inserted into the tape deck.
“Wow,” is all I could say when the last bleat of the tabla dissolved into silence. “Wow.”
“Tushar would like very much to record this song with your son before we return to Bombay,” said Suchita from the back seat. “This is his dream.”
“Yes,” Tushar said, “it is my dream.”
Yes, I thought as we plunged down the steep 580 grade into the San Joaquin Valley, there was a whole lot more to the story of the couple’s journey to Jamestown, America.
Astonishingly, Tushar realized his dream. Over the next three days of the party-campout, he and his wife met some of the best pickers in Northern California, and they also met one of our finest recording engineers, Dave Earl. Together, Dave and Phil and Tushar hatched a scheme to meet at Dave’s recording studio late the following week. When the party ended, Tushar and Suchita went off to L.A. where Suchita did a few days of recording at Capital Records. (Oh, I forgot to mention that the wife of one of Ballywood’s best known film music directors is herself an internationally known singer of classical Indian music; she sings the opening and closing strains of ‘Strumming’. In fact, the husband and wife have done a fair amount of recording together.) By Friday, the two were back in San Francisco where they met up with Phil Cornish and several of his picking buddies. What these seven, plus an immensely talented engineer, produced was…..well, indescribable. So I won’t even bother trying to describe “Strumming Are the Sages.” You can hear it at:
Some years later I received the following note from Tushar”
“Dear Rick Cornish
Feels nice to write to you after such a long time!
Phil specially sent us ‘Walkaway’. (Walkaway is a CD project my son did in the mid-90’s and it included Tushar’s song.) What can we say, the album is wonderful and our song, ‘Strumming Are the Sages’, give a nice touch to the global appeal of bluegrass!
Last night I had an idea and want to express it to you now…..In India, although all styles of music, like rock, classical and pop are popular with many, people haven’t heard this wonderful music bluegrass. So, how about growing bluegrass on Indian soil? We can start a bluegrass club in India, the very first of its kind ever! Here we can do workshops where Indians can be made familiar with its rich music, songs and instruments….even its jokes.
I am a musician and not a rich man. This exciting endeavor can only be accomplished by our mutual cooperation and help. I feel ‘the ROAD IS CLEAR’ and where there is a will there is a way.
Tushar and Suchita
Tushar’s reference to ‘The Road is Clear’ goes all the way back to that November in Woodland. It’s the title of a song I wrote and which Phil and I sang at the festival. It tells the story of a new beginning in a new land. You just gotta love this bluegrass music, don’t you? Oh, and no, I didn’t take Tushar up on his offer, even though it included use of a beach house he and Suchita own. My wife wouldn’t let me go.
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