Kadri Gopalnath, 69, Dies; Brought the Saxophone to Indian Music

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“His life was about being onstage,” Manikanth Gopalnath said. “He decided to go.”

In addition to Manikanth, Mr. Gopalnath is survived by his wife, Sarojini Gopalnath; another son, Guruprasad; a daughter, Ambika Mohan; and six grandchildren.

Kadri Gopalnath was born in Sajipamuda, a village in the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka, on Dec. 6, 1949, the eldest of eight children. His father, Thaniyappa, earned only a modest living as a temple musician, while his mother, Gangamma, kept the home.

In an interview with The Hindu in 2012, Mr. Gopalnath reflected on the hardships of his early life. “I started out with nothing, right from ground level,” he said. “It was not easy for my father to bring up eight children. I look back on those fledgling days with a sense of surprise, awe.”

He began playing the nadhaswaram, studying under his father, but after switching to the saxophone in his adolescence he moved to Mangalore, Karnataka’s major metropolis, to pursue music on a broader stage.

Moving throughout southern India, he studied successively under three major gurus, including a fellow saxophonist, Gopalakrishna Iyer. The last and most consequential was T.V. Gopalakrishnan, an esteemed vocalist, mrudangam drummer and violinist based in Chennai, where Mr. Gopalnath became a prominent figure on the music scene.

Mr. Gopalnath’s career had begun in the years when, across the Atlantic Ocean, John Coltrane’s was coming to a close. Coltrane had transformed jazz in part by investigating Indian styles and bringing them into an American context through the tenor saxophone. Mr. Gopalnath went the other way: He listened to jazz instrumentalists for their technique and inspiration, but bent the instrument to more traditional Carnatic ends.


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