John Stephens is a sarode, surbahar and sitar player based in Durham, North Carolina. He trained intensively, in-person, for over a decade with Ustad Aashish Khan, eldest son of Ustad Ali Akbar of the Senia Maihar Gharana. John earned a bachelor’s degree in jazz composition from Berklee College of Music (2006) and a master’s degree in North Indian music from CalArts (2011).
John has performed on concert stages across the country for numerous occasions including the Ojai Music Festival, the CalArts World Music Festival, the Festival of Tabla (LA), and with the North Carolina Master Chorale at Meymandi Hall. His film and studio credits include recordings for Disney and the Epcot Center, Way of Life (2012), and the raga concert film Remembering Baba (2023).
John is dedicated to teaching and spreading musical knowledge. In addition to teaching privately, he taught Hindustani music at the California State Summer School for the Arts, and was a regular substitute teacher and guest lecturer for world music faculty at CalArts and UC Santa Cruz. His article, The Microtones of Bharata’s Natyashastra, was published in Volume 6 of Analytical Approaches to World Music. He also transcribed and adapted a number of Ustad Aashish Khan’s compositions in western notation, and published them in Sangeet: Legacy of the Maihar Gharana, along with his introductory and explanatory text.
In addition to prior training in jazz guitar, John’s initial studies include a year spent in Varanasi, India learning from his first sitar teacher, Pandit Amar Nath Mishra. He also received training and guidance from Daniel Birch, Josh Feinberg, and Hamid Hossein. His training under Ustad Aashish Khan began in 2009 and continues to this day.