Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan can be described as an artist who has had the maximum impact on the 20th Century Hindustani Classical Music scenario. Born in 1902 into a great musical lineage from Kasur in the Western Punjab, this great savant amalgamated the best of four traditions, his own Patiala – Kasur style, sculpturesque Behram Khani elements of Dhrupad, the intricate gyrations of Jaipur and finally the robust behlavas (embellishments) of Gwalior. But what actually characterised Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was an effervescent melodic quality which was concertised in a masterly flow of ideas which were delivered with a unique sense of alacrity, aided by one of the most pliable and dextrous voices ever heard in living memory in this land.
Bade Ghulam Ali Khan had a relatively short career span. He blazed the trails of Calcutta in 1938 and in the 1944 All India Music Conference in Bombay, was virtually anointed Lord of all he surveyed in the field of Indian Music. But 24 years later, he was dead, prematurely at 66, having given the World less of himself than it would have wished to have. The maestro’s approach to khayal was essentially traditional – as seen in the medium pace of his vilambit Khayal presentation and his style of straightforward sthaibharana avoiding permutations. The character of his Gayaki was derived from an inclination towards looking beyond the traditional method of intoning a Swara to discover unchartered facets of beauteous melody, often achieved by very subtle inflexions of notes. This approach was bom of a mind which always strove to find that beauty in Indian Music which went beyond the Raga itself.
For Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, ‘Taleem’ was but a means to a greater end where sheer melody and freedom of movement became unified His music was the joyous expression of an unfettered musical psyche. In ‘Thumri’, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan looked beyond the tradition of bol-banav where verbal and musical expressions are unified. He saw in Thumri an avenue for playing with notes with even greater abandon than was possible in the raga-restrained Khayal. From this perspective was born the now well-established Punjab-ang of Thumri.
Here is a rare live recording of the maestro in Raga Pahadi :