The legendary Kadri Gopalnath, synonymous with Saxophone in India due to his impeccable skills on the instrument took his last breath today. The 69-year-old world-known musician had not been keeping well, on the 11th of October, 2019, Gopalnath succumbed to a cardiac arrest in a private hospital.
The Saxophone guru is survived by his two sons, a daughter and a lifelong musical journey that earned him a Padmashree.
Gopalnath was 8-years-old when the sound of a Saxophone captured his consciousness forever. He was stunned by the beauty of the shiny instrument and the music flowing through it cast a spell on young Gopalnath’s senses.
Gopalnath immediately wanted to learn the instrument, so he requested his father to buy him a Saxophone. A Saxophone was then priced at Rs. 800, a fairly high price for that time. However, his father was moved by his unfaltering will and bought him the saxophone. Gopalnath’s first-ever saxophone was bought from the G.S.Vasan & Co. in Hyderabad.
Gopalnath did his best to experiment with the music. He played around with his first Saxophone to understand its potential. He started with playing the gamakams, intrinsic to Carnatic music and later also played Carnatic kutcheri, a challenging task.
It didn’t take very long for the people around him to recognize his talents. At 15-years of age, he was invited to play for a Sathyanarayana puja at the Kadri temple in Mangalore. His art was appreciated by the audience since the beginning. Vidwan Dr.T.V.Gopalakrishnan asked him to visit Chennai, and the city granted Gopalnath great opportunities to perform, improve and perform again. His art flourished under the guidance of Dr.T.V.G, he performed at the Chembai Musical Centre during that time.
Kadri Gopalnath won a job at AIR, the most influential platform for musicians of that time. He once recalled the day of the audition and spoke about how nervous he was. He was asked to play the Saxophone in a closed room, while the committee team sat across in another room gawking at him.
He was asked to play the raga Bhairavi, and he did so by presenting the kriti ‘Upacharamu’ with niravals and swaras. He got selected for the ‘B High’ category, which meant he was asked to perform outside Karnataka as well.
Gopalnath’s fame expanded. His concert at Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai was loved by its secretary R. Krishnaswamy so much, that Gopalnath earned the right to play the concert every year. A well-known critic, Subbudu said, “Yanai madhiri ulla vaadhiyathai poonai madhiri pazhakirukar.”, which meant 'and then there was no looking back about his music.'
In his long list of career achievements, the film ‘Duet’ features too. He was mesmerised by the success of the movie’s music score, he once said, “It is the most special and memorable experience. Rahman asked me to explore raga Kalyana Vasantham in varied speeds and octaves. When he finished mixing it with S.P. Balasubramaniam’s voice and the song was released, the response was mindboggling. Its success could be compared to the timeless ‘Singaravelane.’”
However, he never went back to movies.
One of the greatest and remarkable highlights of his life also took him to international audiences. Niranjan Jhaveri, the curator of a jazz festival in Mumbai invited Gopalnath to play at an event. In a sudden rush of adrenalin, popular jazz musician John Handy joined him on stage, and the audience welcomed the fusion with open arms and hearts.
The fusion created by saxophone maestro of Carnatic music and the pop Jazz musician was picked up by people across the seas. Gopalnath toured international cities to perform with John Handy.
Kadri Gopalnath has also played his Saxophone at the inaugural concert of the BBC Promenade Festival at Royal Albert Hall.