Ustad Vilayat Khan ( Aug 28, 1928 – Mar 13, 2004) was one of India's well known sitar maestros. Along with Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Nikhil Banerjee and his younger brother Imrat Khan, Vilayat Khan was one of the great pioneers who introduced Indian Classical Music to the West. Widely regarded by many as the greatest sitarist of his generation, he recorded his first 78-RPM disc at the age of 8, and gave his last concert in 2004 at the age of 75.
Vilayat Khan was born in Gauripur, British India. His father Enayat Khan was recognised as a leading sitar and surbahar (bass sitar) player of his time, as had been the grandfather, Imdad Khan, before him. He was taught in the family style, known as the Imdadkhani Gharana or Etawah Gharana, after small city close to Agra where Imdad Khan lived.
However, Enayat Khan died when Vilayat was only nine, so much of his education came from the rest of his family: his uncle, sitar and surbahar maestro Wahid Khan, his maternal grandfather, singer Bande Hassan Khan, and his mother, Bashiran Begum, who had studied the practice procedure of his forefathers. His uncle Zinde Hassan looked after his riyaz (practice). As a boy, Vilayat wanted to be a singer; but his mother, herself from a family of vocalists, felt he had a strong responsibility to bear the family torch as a sitar maestro.
Vilayat Khan performed at All Bengal Music Conference, as his first concert, organized by Bhupen Ghosh in Kolkata with Ahmed Jan Thirakwa on tabla. His performance at the concert organized by Vikramaditya Sangeet Parishad, Mumbai in 1944 drew the headline "Electrifying Sitar". In the 1950s, Vilayat Khan worked closely with instrument makers, especially the famous sitar-makers Kanailal & Hiren Roy, to further develop the instrument. Also, he liked to perform without a tanpura drone, filling out the silence with strokes to his chikari strings.
Some ragas he would somewhat re-interpret (Bhankar, Jaijaivanti), others he invented himself (Enayatkhani Kanada, Sanjh Saravali, Kalavanti, Mand Bhairav), but he was first and foremost a traditional interpreter of grand, basic ragas such as Yaman, Shree, Todi, Darbari and Bhairavi.
When he died from lung cancer in 2004, Vilayat Khan had been recording for over 65 years, broadcasting on All India Radio almost as long and been seen as a master (ustad) for 60. He had been touring outside India off and on for more than 50 years, and was probably the first Indian musician to play in England after independence (1951). In the 1990s, his recording career reached a climax of sorts with a series of ambitious CDs for India Archive Music in New York, some traditional, some controversial, some eccentric. Towards the end of his life, he also performed and recorded sporadically on the surbahar. He has performed duet concerts with maestros like Bismillah Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, and brother Imrat Khan.
Khan composed and conducted the score for three feature films - Satyajit Ray's Jalsaghar (1958) in Bengali] Merchant-Ivory Productions' The Guru (1969) in English, and Madhusudan Kumar's Kadambari (1976) in Hindi. In addition to these, he also gave music for a little-known documentary film in Bengali produced by Dr. Barin Roy. For Jalsaghar he won a Silver Medal for Composing at the 1st Moscow International Film Festival.