Charu Suri Trio
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Charu Suri Trio

Weehawken, New Jersey, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2018 | INDIE | AFM

Weehawken, New Jersey, United States | INDIE | AFM
Established on Jan, 2018
Band Jazz Alternative




"Lollipops for Breakfast Press"

"Lollipops For Breakfast is a first-rate jazz tune that doesn't take itself too seriously. An exceptionally fine debut." --Dan McClenaghan - All About Jazz

"Book of Ragas"

"Charu's contribution to jazz has just begun and her improvisation of the ragas- based jazz is singular." -- Six-time Grammy nominee and winner, Arturo O' Farrill - Independent Review

"Weehawken resident Charu Suri fuses Jazz and Sufi music"

Standing at the intersection of jazz and Islamic Sufi music is Charu Suri.

Born in Madurai, India, Suri began learning the piano at age of 5. By age 15, she’d won an international piano competition.

Suri says her love and feel for music inspired her to continue playing piano.

“I just love music, it was basically everything that kept me going,” Suri said. “It was the vehicle that kept me inspired and motivated.”

Suri said music brings her comfort when she needs it. She always turned to music when she had a bad day.

“It was the one thing in my life from a very, very early age that made sense to me.” Suri recalled. “It was the only thing that made complete sense.”

To attend Princeton University, Suri moved to New Jersey, settling in Weehawken. At Princeton, she composed several pieces for orchestra and chamber orchestra, but never recorded commercially until recently.

From the classics to jazz and Sufi

While Suri has been a pianist for most of her life, she didn’t always play jazz. Trained as a classical pianist, Suri recalls her natural transition into jazz followed by her jazz-sufi music fusion.

Her sound came from longing to do something more modal. For most of her career, Suri had been playing western classical harmonic music using tonal music.

“I wanted to create something more modal because it was very nostalgic, more ancient sounding, and I love the ancient sounds,” Suri said. “I majored in the classics in college and also did music, so I’ve always been drawn to history and to historical sounds.”

Weehawken resident Charu Suri has played the piano since age 5.
“The use of the raga scales to create jazz work was something that has been on my mind since I listened to the modal experiments of Miles Davis,” Suri said, referring to the albums “Kind of Blue” and “Bitches Brew” by Davis.

Suri said her musical inspirations beyond Davis include Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck. She describes them as her triumvirate of inspiration, alongside Oscar Peterson and Canadian pianist Kris Davis.

These jazz artists, in addition to her Carnatic music upbringing in India, laid the groundwork for Suri to breakthrough into jazz-Sufi fusion music. Carnatic music is a style native to southern India that focuses on voice, with instruments mimicking singing.

“I discovered [Peterson’s] work fairly late because I wasn’t a jazz musician,” Suri said. “I was a classical musician, and I just fell in love with his virtuosity because I’m a virtuoso performer on the piano, or I like to think I am. But he made everything make sense; it wasn’t too over the top, but just right.”

Suri’s first album, “Lollipops for Breakfast,” was scored for a traditional jazz trio and won a Global Music Award. Her next traditional jazz album, “The New American Songbook,” has been well received, Suri said.

The album, featuring vocals by Danielle Erin Rhodes, focuses on traditional jazz. Suri said she’s always loved Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

Then Suri met Apoorva Mugdal, her vocal counterpart throughout the album “The Book of Ragas.” The duo connected through a gig, and Suri discovered that Mugdal was a specialist in ghazals, or Arabic poems, and Sufi music. This is where Suri began her journey into newer, fresher jazz.

Sufi music is traditional devotional prayer music based on Sufi Islam and its poems. Suri had heard of the music, but never thought it was possible to create jazz using it.

“The journey of ‘The Book of Ragas’ was one of discovery,” said Mudgal, who chose the text and improvised sargams based on the musical framework. A sargam is when a vocalist sings a musical note instead of the words of a composition.

Suri said her favorite piece so far in her career is from “The Book of Ragas.” The composition is titled Raag Kalyani, featuring guest guitarist David Ellenbogen.

In Indian translation, Suri explained that Kalyani means “Queen of Indian ragas.” Kalyani inspired the piece “Raag Kalyani,” written in response to the quiet beauty of the countryside, with the sounds evoking a deep sense of calm and peace.

The poetry is “Ae Ri Aali,” a traditional bandish, or composition whose lyricist is not known. It embodies the yearning for the beloved in this surreal peace-inducing raga.

Charu Suri
“It’s very, very peaceful because the core of Carnatic music and Hindustani music is to find that peace.” Suri said of the composition. “When you listen to the ‘Raag Kalyani,’ just at the end after finishing it, you are so at one with yourself. It’s a momentous journey from the beginning to the end. That raga is what people turn to for the ultimate experience or for peace.”

The album artwork was created by Upasana Asrani, an abstract artist based in Chennai, India. A friend of Suri, Arsani’s works are a reflection of a journey of self-discovery expressed throughout “The Book of Ragas.”

“The album artwork has been receiving a lot of praise, and that has been done by my longtime high school friend, who is an amazing artist herself,” Suri said. “I think she nailed the moods of the ragas in the cover. My other friends who have seen it say that they are getting the spirit and the vibe of India just from the cover.”

Making history at Carnegie Hall

Suri became one of the first Indian-American women to premier at Carnegie Hall with her double bill “Book of Ragas” and “The New American Songbook.”

“First of all, to perform at Carnegie Hall is a dream,” Suri said, describing the surreal nature of her performance. “But to perform one’s own music at Carnegie Hall is sensational.”

She hopes to inspire other jazz musicians to follow their passion and pursue their dreams through her performance.

“A couple of people have written me and said this is just a wonderful inspiration,” Suri said. “I think jazz in India is definitely taking off, but it’s very hard to find female composers and female jazz artists in India. I didn’t know of any growing up. Maybe it’s my own ignorance, or maybe this will inspire more women.”

Suri said that she and her band received a standing ovation, demonstrating that the audience enjoyed the show as much as she enjoyed performing.

“Honestly, [it was] a thrilling experience,” Suri said. “It’s very intimate. Weill [Recital Hall] is perfect for jazz. I felt completely connected to the piano, and to the audience. It was very freeing and not stuffy, and the Steinway concert grand there gets tuned daily, so the tones were velvety and perfect.”

During the show, Suri said that she was trying to just have fun, noting that she didn’t want her performance to feel like a “stuffy experience.”

“For me, it was the best stage I’ve performed on, and a lot of audience members felt the same way,” Suri said. “You can hear just about everything. My band was really thrilled to play on that stage.”

2020 World Tour

Next stop, India.

Suri said she plans on taking her music home during a potential 2020 tour, first making stops in Miami for Valentine’s Day as well as Chicago.

“We’re looking at September for a tour to India,” Suri said. “Right now it’s tentative, but we are looking at Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore which are great music cities. We 1000 percent are going to tour India and take our albums, ‘The Book of Ragas’ and ‘The New American Songbook’ on the road.” - Hudson Reporter

"Composer Charu Suri ’97 Combines Jazz With Sufi and Indian Sounds"

The day before her Carnegie Hall debut last December, Charu Suri ’97 faced a major snag.

One of the vocalists to perform with her jazz trio had the flu and laryngitis. Replacing her would be difficult because she was a Sufi singer, which are hard to come by. Such vocalists set a piece of poetry called a ghazal to music and improvise the tune. “I have never been more stressed and nervous in all my life,” says Suri.

The next morning, Suri frantically reached out to everyone she knew. A friend gave her the number of a Pakistani-born Sufi singer. At 10 a.m. Suri called him: “You don’t know me from Adam,” she began, explaining her predicament.

“I rushed into New York City, rented a studio,” says Suri, so the new vocalist could rehearse. Later that evening, their performance was a hit. They got a standing ovation.

Courtesy of Charu Suri ’97
Born and raised in South India, Suri became the first female Indian-American jazz composer to premier work at Carnegie Hall. The December program featured songs from her two new albums: The New American Songbook, with a classical jazz sound in the style of Irving Berlin and Cole Porter; and The Book of Ragas, which combines jazz and Indian musical traditions with a Sufi singer. By showcasing two different styles, “I just wanted to show the versatility of jazz,” she says, because “so many listeners tend to pigeonhole jazz into one kind of sound.” Suri’s trio features Suri on piano, along with a double bassist and drummer.

The combination of a jazz trio with a Sufi singer, as far as Suri knows, has never been done before. For The Book of Ragas, the vocalist sings ancient poetry using ragas — musical scales from the Indian classical tradition — which, Suri explains, “evoke a certain time of day.” The album won two Global Music Awards.

Suri, who majored in Classics and earned a certificate in musical performance at Princeton, didn’t always jam with jazz musicians. Classical music initially grabbed her attention. “I was drawn more to Mozart than I was to my local Indian music. And it would be years later that I would try to come back to my roots,” says Suri, who started playing piano at age 5.

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After years of performing classical music as a pianist, a trip to New Orleans turned her on to jazz. Suri, also a freelance journalist, was there to report a story and went to concerts by a legendary jazz band. “I fell in love with the whole style,” she says.

On the nightstand in her hotel room, instead of note paper she found music manuscript paper. “So I just starting jotting down the tunes” rumbling in her head, she says. That was the beginning of her jazz composing. She was “hungering to create something really breaking the mold,” she says.

She formed her own band two years ago. The Charu Suri Trio had been performing at hotels, clubs, and other venues before COVID-19 hit, and is scheduled to return to Carnegie Hall in the future. In the meantime, the trio and vocalists are planning to perform virtual concerts.

Lately she has been recording piano performances in her New Jersey living room and sharing them on social media. “People have been loving it,” she says. “If I don’t post one day, people will be like ‘Where is your piece?’” - Princeton Alumni Weekly


"Lollipops for Breakfast" out on iTunes and Spotify, won a Global Music Award
"The Book of Ragas" for Jazz Trio and Sufi Singer (debuts Dec. 20th and everywhere at Carnegie Hall)
"The New American Songbook" for trio and singer (debuts Dec. 20th and everywhere at Carnegie Hall)



Charu Suri started her multi-award winning band in 2018 and has composed three albums, all of which have won Global Music Awards. She became the first Indian American jazz composer to premier work at Carnegie Hall. Her albums include Lollipops for Breakfast for a trio, The New American Songbook with vocalist Danielle Erin Rhodes, and The Book of Ragas, which revolutionizes the sound of a traditional jazz trio by scoring it for a Sufi singer and Carnatic ragas. Suri's original music has been widely acclaimed, from Grammy-award winners to general audience members who love their lyrical and soulful quality. All About Jazz rated her first album as, "an exceptionally fine debut." She is a voting member of the Recording Academy (Grammys). 

Band Members