Dr. Kadri Gopalnath (born 11 December 1949) is an Indian saxophonist and one of the pioneers of Carnatic music on the saxophone.
Kadri Gopalnath was born in 1949 in the city of Mangalore to Thaniappa and Gangamma. He acquired a taste for music from his father Thaniappa, a nadaswaram vidwan. As a child, Gopalnath once saw the saxophone being played in the Mysore palace band set. Upon hearing the vibrant tone of the saxophone, Gopalnath decided to master it. It took him nearly 20 years to conquer the complex western wind instrument, and he was eventually crowned as the "Saxophone Chakravarthy".
Gopalnath had to make certain modifications to the conventional alto saxophone to play Carnatic music. So successful has this adaptation been that the great musician Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, the doyen of Carnatic music, has acknowledged Kadri Gopalnath as a true Carnatic music genius.
Gopalnath learned to play the instrument under Gopalkrishna Iyer of Kalaniketana, Mangalore. In Madras, Gopalnath came in contact with the mridangist T.V. Gopalkrishnan, who identified the youngster's potential and tutored him.
His maiden performance was for the Chembai Memorial Trust. The 1980 Bombay Jazz Festival was a turning point for Gopalnath. John Handy, a jazz musician from California was present at the festival. Hearing Gopalnath play, Handy asked if he could go on stage and perform alongside with him. So well did the two mesh, Handy in the jazz style and Gopalnath in the Carnatic style, that it became an instant hit with the audience. Gopalnath has participated in the Jazz Festival in Prague, the Berlin Jazz Festival, the International Cervantino Festival in Mexico, the Music Hall Festival in Paris, the BBC Promenade concert in 1994 at London, and has toured all over the world.
He has cut many albums and has recorded a number of cassettes and CDs. Together with jazz flautist James Newton, he recorded Southern Brothers. His production called 'East-West' is an audio-video presentation that, as the title suggests, is a fusion of Western and Indian music. This album took 6 months to produce and has compositions from Saint Tyagaraja, Beethoven and the likes.
Film director K. Balachander used Gopalnath's services in his Tamil film Duet. The film had music composed by A.R. Rahman and all the songs had saxophonic instrumentation by Gopalnath, mostly in raga Kalyana Vasantam. He once said about this album: "I played some 30 ragas for Rahman. He wasn't satisfied. Finally I played Kalyana Vasantam, and he said, "Thats it!". After that movie I became known. I was in all the papers. It became difficult to travel in buses and trains. Of course I enjoyed the mass appeal."
In 2005, Gopalnath began a collaboration with American saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa, which resulted in the 2008 album Kinsmen (Pi Recordings) and supporting US tour.
Awards, titles and tributes
Titles and honors have come his way, the most cherished being the Asthana Vidwan of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pettam, Sri Sringeri Sharadha Peetam, Sri Ahobila Mutt and Sri Pillayapatti Temple. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2004.
Gopalnath has the distinction of being the first Carnatic musician to be invited in the BBC Promenade concert in 1994, in the Royal Albert Hall at London. The Asian Music Circuit, U.K, sponsored his recital.
Among his other distinctions are: Saxophone Charkravarthy, Saxophone Samrat, Ganakala Shree, Nadapasana Brahma, Sunada Prakashika, Nada Kalarathna, Nada Kalanidhi, Sangeetha Vadya Rathna, Karnataka Kalashree in 1996, Vocational Excellency Award from the Rotary of Madras, Tamil Nadu State Award "Kalaimamani" and Karnataka Rajyotsava Award in 1998.He received an honorary doctorate from Bangalore University in 2004.
The 2008 album Blue Rhizome by the New Quartet features a tribute to the saxophonist called "Gopalnath" (composed by Karl E. H. Seigfried).