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In the beginning there was black & white television, and there was Korla Pandit. Not necessarily in that order. In fact it has always puzzled historians as to whether Korla Pandit was made for television, or visa-versa. One thing is crystal clear: no one was better suited to the medium during those formative years.

Korla Pandit was TV's first "talking head", except, per mentor Klaus Landsberg's direction, he didn't even talk! Instead he just gazed dreamily into the camera, and into the hearts and imaginations of millions upon millions of viewers over the years, when television was in its infancy and people were captivated by this Mesmerist and his "Universal Language of Music".

Orchids & moonlight, unchained melodies, worshippers from under the water, India's One & Only Song, themes magnetic, played a thousand different ways, all embodied the spiritual and spirited performances of a handsome young man in a turban, a music-box Sabu, he of Indian origin, foreign to American music audiences, foreign to American TV audiences, foreign and yet not foreign at all.

"Favorites of yours and mine, played on the Heartstrings of Time" was this guru's forte, fingers first flying over grand piano ivories then soon the revolutionary new Hammond B-3 electronic organ, complete with drawbars, pre-sets, percussion, and 2 Jr-20 speakers, each endowed with cavernous reverberation. Korla played his "music of the Exotic East" along with a blend of waltzes, tangos, cha-cha-cha's and other tunes of the 40's and 50's, with even an occasional classic such as "Claire de Lune" or "The Swan" thrown in for good measure. Korla was known for playing both his favorite instruments - the Hammond organ and piano - simultaneously, working the piano with his right hand and the organ on his left. Although extremely gifted on the piano, Korla quickly earned acclaim as an expert on what was then a new instrument, the "electronic organ". He mastered the instrument within three days so he could take a radio station's job offer as an organist.

Like many performing artists of the day, Korla emerged from the shadowland of radio, where he had been secreted away somewhere in a corner of the studio, supplying exotic themes and mood music for the popular "Chandu the Magician" White King soaper, into the limelight of Hollywood's mercurial "stardom."

He pioneered "Exotica"; he was its embodiment and he conjured it up musically and on the new "tube," visually as well, effecting all manner of tonal orchestration on the Hammond, before-unheard.

From daily or weekly TV broadcasts his schedule grew with the popularity of Theatre Organs, and Korla in later years eventually discovered an entirely new career for himself on the concert circuit, piping it up everywhere from Santa Barbara's Arlington to Oakland's Paramount Theatres, and warehouses and Pipes & Pizzas in-between.

With the Tiki Revival close at hand, Korla Pandit appeared at Hollywood's House of Blues and Bimbo's 365 Club in San Francisco at events where, naturally, he was, once again, THE main attraction!

Korla Pandit passed away October 2, 1998, at the (theoretical) age of 77. It's a matter for conjecture as he nonchalantly allowed, whenever asked, that he was in the neighborhood of two thousand years of age. His final days were spent doing what he loved the most, playing his exotic melodies in the sunset of his lifetime.


Verne Langdon


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