Uttal, Jai

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Uttal, Jai

Uttal, Jai, American singer and musician; b. N.Y. He studied classical piano as a child before also learning to play banjo, harmonica, and electric guitar. His diverse musical abilities were reflected in his learning a wide range of styles and absorbing everything from Jimi Hendrix to John Coltrane to modern classical music. By age 19, he became entranced by the music of world famous Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan and was compelled to move to Calif, to study voice and the 25-string sarod under Khan’s guidance. He was later able to apply his Indian classical training to the other forms of music he played during the 1970s and 1980s, including reggae, punk, Motown, and blues. During the 1970s, he made many pilgrimages to India while also studying music in Calif, under various tutors. One of those Indian treks was incredibly influential—he lived and played amongst Bengalese street musicians named the Bauls, communicating with them entirely through music, and the lessons learned there would permanently alter his musical course. Uttal has been categorized both as a world and jazz musician, but his music blends those elements with pop and fusion to form a signature sound that is full of warmth and romanticism. The musician originally began his recording career with his 1990 debut Footprints,an album that found him taking his inspirational journeys to India (particularly his time spent with the Bauls) and applying it to his Western heritage.

As his work has progressed, he has moved away from works that center more on him and work in a group setting (including occasional songwriting collaborations), one which includes guitar, trombone, violin, bass, and percussion. The electronic influences of his debut soon were stripped away and replaced by more pop-based sounds, which later lead to fusion and even a few reggae influences. His main instrument is the dotar, which sonically resembles a sitar but possesses a crisper sound with less twang. It dominates his first two albums, but as his music has matured, he has let the sounds of the Pagan Love Orch. become stronger and more independent. No matter what album you listen to, though, the sound of Uttal and his orchestra is very distinct. He has also performed on albums by the Hieroglyphics Ensemble, Tulku, the Peter Apfelbaum Sextet, and Gabrielle Roth & the Mirrors, and has produced two albums for Ali Akbar Khan.


Footprints (1990); Monkey (1992); Beggars and Saints (1995); Shiva Station (1997); Spirit Room: A Retrospective (2000).

—Bryan Reesman