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Training and early career
Imrat was born in Calcutta into a family of musicians tracing its pedigree back for several generations, to the court musicians of the Mughal rulers. His father was Enayat Khan (1895–1938), recognised as a leading sitar and surbahar player of his time, as had been his grandfather, Imdad Khan (1848–1920), before him. His father died when Imrat was a child, so he was raised by his mother, Bashiran Begum and her father, singer Bande Hassan Khan. In 1944, the family moved with rising star Vilayat Khan, Imrat's elder brother, to Bombay where both the brothers learned extensively from uncle Wahid Khan, Enayat Khan's brother. Wahid Khan was one of the greatest surbahar players of his generation and a top-level sitar player, and taught Imrat on the instruments in the family style, known as the Imdadkhani gharana (school), or Etawah Gharana, after a village outside Agra where Imdad Khan lived.
In 1952 Vilayat and Imrat moved in together in Calcutta. They performed together for many years. From the 1960s onwards, Imrat has performed and recorded solo, playing both sitar and surbahar.
Solo career and legacy
For decades, Imrat has recorded extensively on both his instruments. His full performance practice starts with a surbahar alap in dhrupad ang (embellished with more romantic touches), followed by a shorter alap on the sitar leading into gat in traditional Imdadkhani style. (Sitar players such as Ravi Shankar and Nikhil Banerjee added bass strings to their sitars to achieve at least some of the surbahar's lower range on a single instrument).
Imrat has five sons, Nishat, Irshad, Wajahat and Shafaatullah,and Azmat Khan, now only eight; the first four sons are all classical musicians: Nishat plays the sitar, Wajahat concentrates on the sarod and Shafaatullah is accomplished on sitar, tabla, and surbahar. The surbahar tradition is largely upheld by Irshad (also a sitar player), who has made some very traditional solo recordings.
Imrat Khan currently spends a portion of each year teaching classical Indian music and instructing sitar students at Washington University in Saint Louis. In addition to his sons, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and George Harrison of The Beatles (who also studied under Ravi Shankar) have been some of his famous students.