Unexpected Lessons from the Masters of Guitar – An investigative report

Scott Henderson

In light of the recent retraction posted by Hindustan Times about an inaccurate article they had published regarding ‘Masters of Guitar Vol II’, WTS spoke to the artists and organizers involved to get a clear idea of what transpired between them. Here’s a detailed account:

23rd January  - An article titled ‘Guitar Gods to Rock India’ was published by the Hindustan Times stating that Susmit Sen of Indian Ocean was spearheading an initiative called ‘Masters of Guitar’ which will feature notable international guitarists Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Pat Metheny and Scott Henderson. Consequently, several newspapers and websites mirrored this information by publishing inaccurate versions of this news without any additional confirmation of their own with any of the artists or organizers involved. Several others (including ‘What’s The Scene?’) shared the HT article on Facebook believing it to be true.

Unexpected Lessons from the Masters of Guitar - An investigative report

30th January  - Susmit Sen’s company Studio Beat Route posted an update on their Facebook page clarifying that these reports were false and that none of the artists were confirmed yet and no official statements have been issued to the media.

February  - Studio Beat Route was in talks with Sandeep Chowta (who promotes and manages Scott Henderson’s shows in India) for an event in Delhi which was later cancelled close to the scheduled date due to an apparent lack of sponsorship. While Sandeep was booking Henderson’s group Tribal Tech for a gig in Delhi, Studio Beat Route believed that the talks were on for a Tribal Tech gig as part of ‘Masters of Guitar Vol II.’ An advance of Rs. 2 lakhs had been sent to Sandeep Chowta Projects by Studio Beat Route before the show was finally cancelled on 27th February . Parallely, an update went out on The Blue Frog website, stating ‘Masters of Guitar feat. Scott Henderson’ was scheduled for 16th March .

Unexpected Lessons from the Masters of Guitar - An investigative report

March  - Henderson was informed by Sandeep Chowta about the initial article published in the Hindustan Times and that Susmit Sen also happened to be the promoter of the cancelled Tribal Tech show in Delhi. Henderson wrote an angry email to Susmit, threatening to sue him for copyright abuse and fraud, claiming no knowledge of Susmit or his event in November and demanding a public apology. He also demanded that Susmit pay Sandeep 2000 Euros since Susmit’s company Studio Beat Route apparently  pulled out of the show too late, after non-refundable airline tickets were already bought, which allegedly cost Sandeep over 2000 Euros. After a heated debate with Susmit Sen over an exchange of emails in which Susmit accused Scott of being a racist and an extortionist, Henderson apologized for having asked Susmit to cover the airline expenses. Henderson however was upset about the illegal use of his name for Studio Beat Route’s ‘Masters of Guitar’ event in November.

4th March  – ‘What’s The Scene?’ receives a message from Studio Beat Route to take down the shared HT article on our Facebook Page, stating that the information in the article was completely wrong; similar messages went out to other online publications as well.

21st March  - Susmit created a Facebook note in which he posted the private communication between himself and Henderson, causing a heated argument between Henderson, Sen, and many of their friends and fans. Some of Susmit’s fans accused Henderson of knowing and agreeing to the event, which led him prove his claim by sending the newspaper articles to the other three guitarists named in the article who confirmed that they were not aware of any such event. Henderson shared the following responses from Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Pat Metheny:

“Hey Scott, Thanks for sending this. What nerve they have. Gees, I’m going to forward this to my agent, manager and attorney. I’m actually looking into going to India but not until next year and not with these guys. – Steve Vai

Scott – We will get on this ASAP. – Joe Satriani

Hi Scott, I’m sad to hear that my name is being used without my permission. I’ll contact my manager and the Ted Kurland agency about this. Thanks. – Pat Metheny”

These statements provided Henderson with the proof he needed, that none of the four musicians had any knowledge of the event prior to seeing the articles. Joe Satriani posted on his website that any stories about him working with Susmit Sen were fraudulent.

Henderson later questioned the publications that had carried the story about the basis for their articles. Nirmika Singh from HT claimed that Susmit Sen was very happy to give her this confirmation over a phone call and that she had a PowerPoint presentation (a concept note shared by Studio Beat Route about ‘Masters of Guitar Vol II’) that clearly mentions that these artists were set to be a part of this concert. Lalitha Suhasini from Rolling Stones India (that had also carried a similar report) left a comment on this mail-trail saying “Susmit told my writer you (Henderson) were a part of the Masters of Guitar series and I have it on record. In fact, we don’t publish interviews that we don’t record,” but promptly changed her stance when asked to present the recording that backed up what was written in the article, she said, “No, I do not have Susmit telling us that Steve, Joe and Pat were part of Masters of Guitar on record. He mentioned these names to an ex-Rolling Stones writer before the interview but we do not have that on record.” and later on went on to say “No, I do not have a recording to post.”

The questions that remain unanswered are why the newspapers and websites that posted the inaccurate articles supposedly contact Susmit alone and not get in touch with Sandeep Chowta (who is Scott’s manager in India), or the management of the three other guitarists and if Susmit did tell them about it, why don’t they have any recorded interview and why did HT base their article on a concept paper which was sent out for media partnership to their marketing department?

25th March,   In order to get clarity on the Tribal Tech confusion, WTS got in touch with Sandeep Chowta to know what transpired between Studio Beat Route and Sandeep Chowta Projects. Here’s what he had to say: 

What was the understanding between Studio Beat Route and Sandeep Chowta Projects about the show in Delhi? 

Sandeep: I was approached for the show by Anirban and Nikhil who said that they are very keen on doing the Tribal Tech show. They said that as soon as we go back we’re going to send you a token amount to confirm that we are doing the show – a basic amount to confirm the fact that this is happening. I was very happy to hear this and was really looking forward to it. It was decided that 50% of the amount would be paid by Studio Beat Route after the band’s confirmation and the remaining 50% would be paid once the band reaches Delhi. The first instalment of 2 lakhs came in with the promise that the remaining amount for the first 50% would be sent in by 15th February. After that they never gave me the venue or any details, they said they were finalizing everything and looking for the venue. It was purely on trust that we said ok we’re waiting for the second instalment. 

What happened after that? 

Sandeep: I did not hear from them and I got really scared because the band was to leave from Delhi and I had booked their tickets from Delhi instead of Mumbai to make things easier for Studio Beat Route so that they need not go through the trouble of flying the band to Mumbai from Delhi before they head back to LA, but there was no confirmation yet of the show happening.  I never sent out any publicity or teasers, nothing. Finally on the 27th of February I called him and asked what’s going on, Anirban said we’re having a problem and that the sponsors are not helping. I asked him, what do I do now? He said I don’t know. I asked where is Susmit? He said he is busy. I’ve never spoken to Susmit Sen I’ve only been speaking to his associates. So I asked are you saying the gig is not happening? He said well that’s what you’ll have to consider what I’m saying. In the mean time I see a flyer on Blue Frog Delhi’s programs saying ‘Masters of Guitar feat. Scott Henderson.’ When did that happen? How did that come up? And then nothing, I didn’t hear from them and we were screwed. That’s when I realized that things are screwed up and I have to do something about the tickets, the change of flight was coming up to 2000 Euros but we could not change the flights we had to change the airline! 

Was Studio Beat Route under the impression all the time his talks were for ‘Masters of Guitar Vol II’ all the time? 

Sandeep: How can it be ‘Masters of Guitar’, this was a band called Tribal Tech. If you really look at the ‘Masters of Guitar’ series it was started by Blue Frog and Susmit as partners, why will we have another venue if they were partners from the beginning? It wasn’t a Scott Henderson concert; it was a Tribal Tech gig. The whole concept behind ‘Masters of Guitar’ is inviting Indian musicians to play with foreign musicians right? There was nothing like that. There was a request from Anirban at one point in time asking if Susmit could jam with Tribal Tech. That idea was completely dismissed. I said that’s not going to happen. If you look at the MoU, if there was any discrepancy he would have immediately come and said listen this is not going to happen.  I thought he was interested in bringing Tribal Tech to Delhi. There was no question of anybody performing with anybody in this gig. Tribal Tech would play their set and go. 

What’s your main grouse with Studio Beat Route? 

Sandeep: They could have told me they didn’t want to do the show. Why did I have to bring it out of them? Susmit could have come over the phone, or at least written an email saying they’re sorry it didn’t happen. I could have at least settled the flight scene if they had informed me in advance, I had to pay the artists anyway. Also, if Susmit’s side of the story that he published  where he mentions that on February 7th after receiving the MoU they were shocked to know that it wasn’t Masters of Guitar, was true why did they continue the talks about the show till the 27th and why did they send out a confirmation to Blue Frog to put up the event on their website? 

Hadn’t Studio Beat Route paid an advance to SCP? Didn’t that cover the costs that you incurred? 

Sandeep: No, 2000 Euros is what it would have cost me for just changing the flight tickets, but it cost me a lot more because I had to change the airline and book individual tickets for their flights from Mumbai to Dubai and back to LA. They were earlier booked on Malaysian and were flying via the Pacific route (Delhi-Kuala Lumpur-China-LA). I had to also cover other costs like their hotel reservations, food and beverage, expenses of the sound engineer and additional gear that was flown in for the gig and I had to pay the band irrespective of whether there was a show in Delhi or not. Over and above the 2 lakhs advance sent by Studio Beat Route, I had to incur a cost of about 2.5 lakhs just to book their one-way flights out of Bangalore via Dubai to Los Angeles and Qatar to Barcelona. 

The HT article was out in January . Why did you mention it to Scott in March only after Tribal Tech got cancelled? 

Sandeep: I didn’t know Scott knew nothing about the article until later when I told him the person who cancelled the Tribal Tech show in Delhi is the same guy he is working with for the show in November and he said he didn’t know about any such show! 

Why did you book the flight tickets before Studio Beat Route sent across a confirmation with the signed MoU? 

Sandeep: They had already confirmed the event by sending the 2 lakh rupees advance, and in his emails Anirban has mentioned “As of now, please confirm Tribal Tech for Delhi on the 16th March’13. The balance amount (for the first 50%) will be transferred by 15th Feb’13 and as per your mail, the rest will be paid to you when you guys land in Delhi.” and he also said they were in the process of signing the MoU and sending it across.

26th March What’s The Scene? had a conversation with Scott Henderson to get to know his opinions on the matter and here’s what he had to say:

When did you first see the Hindustan Times article?

Scott: When I was on tour in Asia with Tribal Tech, this month.

What was your first reaction?

Scott: I was pretty upset. Joe Satriani handled it the right way by posting on his website that he had no knowledge of Susmit Sen. I lost my temper and sent Susmit an extremely angry letter, threatening to sue him, and he wrote back demanding an apology. There were more heated email exchanges after that.

Why were you so angry about the article?

Scott: Because my friend Sandeep Chowta has brought me to India four times for little or no profit to himself, and out of nowhere appears some other guy who I’d never heard of, claiming that I was working for him. I took this as a huge insult to Sandeep, who’s worked harder than anyone I know to bring jazz shows to India. I was angry more on the behalf of Sandeep than myself. I later learned that Susmit was actually the promoter of the Tribal Tech show in Delhi, which had been cancelled sometime earlier.

Did Susmit explain why the articles had been published?

Scott: Yes, he said that it was all a mistake because his PowerPoint presentation was leaked to the press without his consent.

Did he also explain that to the public?

Scott: Yes, he told me there was a post on his Studio Beat Route page which included the statement “owing to some confusion, it has been published that Scott Henderson, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Amyt Dutta, Sumit Ramachandran are playing at the festival/series. We at Studio Beat Route would like to state that we haven’t confirmed any artists for the upcoming volumes as of now and have not issued any official statements regarding the same.”

What did you think after reading the post?

Scott: I found it hard to believe that a major newspaper like the Hindustan Times would publish such a fact-based article without getting the information directly from the organizers of the event. I told Susmit I thought his story was bulls***.

Do you know anything about the cancelled Tribal Tech show in Delhi?

Scott: I have no facts about the cancelled show. Cancellations happen all the time in this business and it’s not something I get angry about. It’s between the agent and promoter and I’m not involved in business negotiations. The only thing different in this case is that Susmit pulled out of the show too late, after non-refundable airline tickets were already bought, which cost my friend Sandeep over 2000 Euros. This was unfortunate but not illegal. I was only angry about the illegal use of my name for Susmit’s event in November. This was ridiculous, since I’m touring South America in November with the HBC trio.

Why did you ask Susmit for money?

Scott: I shouldn’t have asked Susmit to pay Sandeep back. That matter was between them and was none of my business. All I wanted was a public apology from Susmit for fraudulently using my name.

Why do you think the show was cancelled?

Scott: According to Susmit, he couldn’t find sponsors for the concert. I don’t understand why he would go into the negotiating stage of a concert without having the sponsors on board first. After learning more about Susmit, I have my own theory about why the gig was cancelled. Susmit doesn’t think of himself as a concert promoter in the traditional sense. He doesn’t want to just bring famous musicians to India, he wants to perform with them. During the negotiations, Anirban asked Sandeep if Susmit could perform with Tribal Tech, and Sandeep said absolutely not.

Did Sandeep have your OK to say that?

Scott: Yeah, of course. If this had been my blues trio, we probably would have let Susmit play, since that gig is all about guitar. But Tribal Tech is not a guitar show, and we don’t let anyone jam with us on stage. Sandy knows that. My guess is that after Susmit learned he wasn’t going to be allowed to perform, he cancelled the show. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but that’s what I think. Regardless of the reason, he’s the promoter and it’s his right to pull out of a show if he wants to, but he should have done it earlier before expensive airline tickets were bought.

What if it really wasn’t Susmit’s fault? What if the newspapers and websites misquoted him?

Scott: Well if that was true I would apologize profusely.

28th March  - After the interview, Henderson decided to post an apology to Susmit. When asked why, he said “because HT became less credible in my eyes. Nirmika Singh had no corroboration from anyone else at HT, and when I wrote to her, she told me she no longer had Susmit’s PowerPoint presentation in her possession. I chose to take Susmit’s word over hers.” When WTS contacted Nirmika Singh, she refused to comment further and asked us to “refer to her comment on the Facebook note with the mail trail.” Susmit Sen didn’t want to answer the questions that he had initially requested us to mail since Scott had already issued a public apology and Susmit didn’t want to drag the matter further. WTS dropped talks and investigations since the artists seemed to have resolved the issue among themselves. 

4th May  - Hindustan Times posted the following retraction and made the Power Point presentation (a Concept Note provided to Hindustan Times by Studio Beat Route in order to have them on board as sponsors for the ‘Masters of Guitar’ event) available to Henderson which he shared with WTS that states “The Concept: MASTERS OF GUITAR festival is a unique festival featuring the best and topmost guitar players from all over the world. This is an initiative to initiate collaboration between Indian musicians along with guitar legends from all across the world. The festival will feature music from all over the world and across all genres – From Pat Metheny, John Mclaughlin, Scott Henderson churning out blues/jazz melodies to Wayne Kramer, Bernie Marsden, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai shredding their respective axes to produce technically challenging blues/rock tunes. All of these great musicians will be collaborating with Indian guitar gods from the likes of Susmit Sen (Founder, Indian Ocean), Sumith Ramachandran (Founder Hip-Pocket), Amyt Dutta (Founder, Skinney Alley), Baiju (Ex guitarist, Motherjane), Prasanna (Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music.)”

Unexpected Lessons from the Masters of Guitar - An investigative report

In light of the latest developments, when asked what he felt after seeing the Concept Presentation and HT’s apology and if the matter had reached a conclusion, Scott said “It was over for me months ago, after I apologized to Susmit and he took his Facebook thread down. Susmit enjoys well deserved respect in India, but seems extremely hungry to expand his career by associating and performing with as many world renowned musicians as he possibly can, and I think his ambition led to fabricating concerts and events which don’t exist, and even showing these fictional events to the press. The musicians should be invited first, before their names are given to the press in any capacity, and I think Susmit and Studio Beat Route acted unprofessionally.” When asked if he was sorry he apologized to Susmit, Henderson said, “No, not at all. I don’t think he realized that exaggerating to the press would result in this ordeal. I found out that Joe Satriani’s manager had seen the HT article before I did, and was already gathering his armies. I wrote to all three guitarists and told them it was just a press misunderstanding. Susmit owes me a drink for that one. He wanted to bring famous musicians to India, but didn’t handle his marketing in the right way – a professional publicist would have never made those mistakes, and I think he desperately needs one. I have no hard feelings toward Susmit, and I’ll certainly say that he’s proven himself to his fans and deserves the respect he’s earned for his musical work. His business skills, well, he should probably stick to music.”

In Susmit’s defence, he had mentioned earlier in his emails to Scott that there was a concept paper that his company Studio Beat Route had presented to a media company that was misrepresented by their marketing department to the reporters which was the source for their articles and that there was never a formal press release that went out to newspapers or magazines. The fact whether he spoke to the journalists or not, remains debatable. The question however remains, whether it was ethical on Studio Beat Route’s part to include a list of artists as people set to perform at an event in the presentations floated around to prospective sponsors. Susmit says “My stand in this whole episode is that my company Studio Beat Route had presented a concept note to certain media houses with the sole purpose of raising sponsorship for ‘Masters of Guitar.’ This concept note was not meant to be printed or shared with public at large. The day I got to know about the articles naming the leading guitar players I immediately issued a clarification on mine and my company’s Facebook pages on the 30th of January. If I had any intention to draw extra mileage by using the international names, I could have exploited the situation to my advantage.” 

7th May WTS contacted Anirban Ghosh from Studio Beat Route and here’s what he had to say: 

Did you approach Sandeep Chowta for a Tribal Tech show in Delhi? 

Anirban: It was I and my colleague and fellow drummer, Nikhil, who wanted Scott Henderson and his band Tribal Tech to perform at the ‘Masters of Guitar’ festival and it was us who suggested Susmit to get him here. Susmit had never even heard of Tribal Tech earlier. We met Sandeep who was bringing Scott Henderson along with his band Tribal Tech to India in March for a show in Mumbai. The concept of ‘Masters of Guitar’ was to bring the best guitar players from all over the world and make them collaborate with Indian guitar players, that’s why there were both international and Indian musicians mentioned in the concept presentation. It was not about just Susmit jamming with any of the guitar players, but was meant for many other Indian guitar players including Susmit to collaborate with them across different series. We concluded a successful 2 concert series with Bernie Marsden and were thinking of doing the same with the others. A big misunderstanding arose after that regarding the Tribal Tech gig which was supposed to be a part of Masters of Guitar and not a separate show (after the clarification from Sandeep that Scott would not jam with anyone onstage without having prior rehearsals, we decided to just have a Tribal Tech gig as part of the ‘Masters of Guitar’ series without any collaboration.) 

Tell us more about the Concept presentation that was sent to HT.

Anirban:  I had sent a concept presentation to Hindustan Times for media partnership that had the names of Scott, Joe, Steve, Pat, Sumit Ramachandran, Amyt Dutta etc. which was supposed to be just a media partnership proposal and nothing more! The source mail to HT clearly states in the subject line “Media Partnership proposal.” We had sent the presentation to a lot of other media companies including The Times of India but no one else printed an article on the basis of that since there is some basic research any media company should do before printing such articles bearing heavyweight names. They should get in touch with everyone involved and take their quotes/ confirmations, but in this case, neither we knew that the media company would print this, nor did they take anyone’s confirmation before printing the article. It is really bizarre that anybody would print an article based on a concept presentation! Things really went out of proportion and ended in a mindless quarrel between Susmit Sen and Scott Henderson because of the inaccurate articles. 

Why did a post go up on Blue Frog’s website about ‘Masters of Guitar Vol II’?

Anirban:  The Blue Frog post came up as a mistake. They were our partners for the entire series and they did get a mail from us confirming Tribal Tech, but soon after we canceled the gig, we asked them to pull it down. They pulled it down after the weekend since here generally, people take an off on weekends.

Was Susmit ever directly involved in any of the talks that transpired about the show in Delhi?

Anirban:  Sandeep and I were in touch on the phone regarding the entire gig and I was informing Susmit about the talks between us. Susmit has been the face of Studio Beat Route, which is why he had to face the brunt of it, but I was equally involved in this from the beginning and I should have handled this thing more professionally so that the situation would never have blown out of proportion the way it did. I am really sorry to everyone who were involved in this issue as a connoisseur of good music and as a musician myself, my intention was to get Scott Henderson to be a part of the ‘Masters of Guitar’ series and I had never ever imagined in my dreams that it would take this route. Like I had told Scott in the thread, there are very few people in the world who care for his kind of music, and instead of criticizing them, he should probably help them in organizing such endeavors as it would do a greater good to the overall music community.

In conclusion, it was unfortunate that the incident had to play out the way it did, we only hope that the artists and organizers involved, put the incident behind and continue to put together great shows and stay open to the prospect of working with each other in the future. Although it looks like it will be a while before any of us catch our Guitar Gods live in concert in India, we hope the wait won’t be too long.

Priyanka Shetty

Priyanka Shetty

Priyanka Shetty is the founder of What's The Scene? Follow Priyanka on Twitter @priyanka_shetty

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