Category Archives: Birthdays

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Happy birthday, March 31, 1947
 “Music is simply the sugar syrup that the medicine of the Divine name is hidden in.”

Sometimes a happenstance event becomes that stone thrown in a still pond and the ripples vibrate out to the lakes’ shores and throughout history.

In April 1965, the Beatles were filming the movie, Help!. The script called for a scene in an Indian restaurant with Indian musicians playing.

George Harrison saw a sitar for the first time.

Norwegian Wood

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

On October 12, 1965, the Beatles began working on their Rubber Soul album  and during the day’s second session they started to record “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).” Harrison played sitar on the song.

On my tours at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts I emphasize the importance of the Rubber Soul album and how it changed the scope of pop music. I joke about how when I first listened to the album, intently staring at and reading its covers, I found a typo: someone had misspelled guitar! They spelled it s-i-t-a-r.

And just as Harrison had accidentally discovered Indian music (and thus Indian culture), so too happened the teenage Western listener.

And as the Beatles became interested in other things Indian, so did many Baby Boomers.

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Jeff Kagel

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Jeff Kagel was a student at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

He had first learned yoga asanas [postures] on the floor of a tenement apartment on the Lower East Side in 1966 from a guy who had just come over from India.

He also loved rock music and was in a band. He wanted to be a star.

The Soft White Underbelly would go on to rock fame as Blue Öyster Cult and sell more than 24 million records worldwide.

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Krishna Das

As much as Jeff Kagel wanted to be a rock star, he felt spiritually lost.  In the winter of 1968, he made a decision: move to New Hampshire visit the spiritual teacher Ram Dass  (who, in his former incarnation was Harvard professor Richard Alpert as in LSD researcher with Timothy Leary).

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Later, Kagel traveled across the country with Ram Dass as his student, captivated by the stories of  Dass’s recent trip to India where he had met the legendary guru Neem Karoli Baba, known to most as Maharaj-ji.

Jeff Kagel went to India.

From an interview in Ascent magazine:

In India, Krishna Das [Kagel] also encountered kirtan, or the chanting of God’s name. “I heard it and I couldn’t believe it. I thought, this is fantastic. I was always musical and I always loved to sing. I didn’t really do it at first as a spiritual practice, in a heavy way like that. I sang because I loved to do it.”

He spoke of his guru with great love and respect: “Someone like him is like the sun. To be in his presence and to be connected to him is to be doing the best thing you can do for your own blossoming. He didn’t give meditation techniques, he didn’t give mantras. He ripened you from the inside.”

For awhile, Kagel became “Driver” because he was in charge of driving the one car that’s how many referred to him, but…

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Neem Karoli Baba gave Krishna Das his spiritual name. Das means servant, and Krishna is one of the names of God.

NYT interview: Krishna Das lived blissfully at Neem Karoli Baba’s temple until 1973, when he returned to America at the guru’s behest. His teacher called him back about a year later, but Krishna Das, who was making money and enjoying a new romance, hesitated. Within months, Neem Karoli Baba died.

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Lost/Renewal

After Baba’s death, Das became lost.  Eleven years of substance abuse and depression followed.

He returned to India and came to the realization that although Neem Karoli Baba had left his body, his presence remained.

Chanting had never left Krishna Das.

Back in the United States, in 1994, Krishna Das started leading chant at Jivamukti Yoga Center, NYC.

From his siteOver the years, he continued chanting, developing his signature style, fusing traditional kirtan of the east with western harmonic and rhythmic sensibilities. 

Does he still love rock? Does he ever tire of kirtan?

I do, all the time! You should hear us at sound check. We do Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Rolling Stones. We do everything. We’re totally nuts in sound check. [YJ interview]

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

One Track Heart

In 2012, director Jeremy Frindel released One Track Heart, The Story of Krishna Das. It is how I first heard of and heard KD.  And again I found myself asking, “How is it I never heard of him before.”

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das
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Trumpeter Luis Gasca

Trumpeter Luis Gasca

Trumpeter Luis Gasca

Happy birthday
March 24,  1940

Luis Gasca played in Janis Jopin’s Kozmic Blues Band at Woodstock. That’s why I’m doing this blog piece, but like so many other times in my life, I’ve discovered that that momentous performance is simply one small piece in Gasca’s nearly lifetime of performances.

Trumpeter Luis Gasca

Houston

Luis Gasca grew up poor in Houston. His parents made and sold tamales.  Earning a living was first for them. Performing music was not part of the picture, but one day Luis saw two men playing trumpets and he felt something.

By the time he was 15 he was playing gigs and by 16 getting paid to play.

Trumpeter Luis Gasca

Berklee

By 18 he had a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music in Boston and traveled on weekends to New York City and absorbed the music of Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.

He was drafted but afterwards lived in Japan awhile–playing trumpet, of course. Then to Oahu.

When asked about his love of the trumpet, he answered, “”It’s a very demanding instrument…. And I’ll never quit learning it. I got that at an early age: Never let anything slide. I have a hunger and a thirst for music. That love for something, that is the impetus to make you never never quit, to make you give it your all. That love cannot be taught. One has to love the music and the knowledge. I’m 100 % joyous playing music with other masters.

Trumpeter Luis Gasca

Count Basie and more

One of his greatest achievements was being a part of the Count Basie Band.

In 1969, he released  “The Little Giant” album. on Atlantic. Interestingly, one of the album’s cuts is “Motherless Child” made famous as part of Richie Haven‘s famous Woodstock improvisation of Motherless Child/Freedom as well as the very next song played at Woodstock, Sweetwater’s cover of the same song.

Gasco’s cover is like no Motherless Child you’ve ever heard:

Trumpeter Luis Gasca

Solo artist

Gasca released three other albums: For Those Who Chant (1972), Luis Gasca (1972), and Collage (1976).  And though that discography may seem short, have a Snickers nearby if you’re going to look at his extensive credit list at AllMusic.

Among the names listed are Santana, Van Morrison, and Mike Bloomfield.

As sadly happened to many of his generation’s fellow musicians, the lifestyle overwhelmed him and he left music until the 90s.

Here he is in 2012 leading an all-star Latin Jazz Big Band – The Mambo Kings on the second night of a three-day Latin Jazz Festival.

Thank you, Luis, for everything your given our ears.

Trumpeter Luis Gasca
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Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

January 2, 1884 – March 25, 1951

Oscar Micheaux, the son of former slaves, was born in Illinois and grew up in Kansas . When he was 17 he became a porter on the railway, but within a few years left the railroad and homesteaded in South Dakota.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Homesteader to Author

He wrote about his farm life and  self-published The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer in  1913.  In 1915 he lost the farm.

In 1917 he again self-published a book, The Homesteader.  After a film deal fell through for the story, Micheaux decided to expand his publishing company. It became Micheaux Film and Book Company in 1919.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Author and Filmmaker

The Homesteader film was the first film made by an African-American. It starred Evelyn Preer.

Unlike the white-controlled film industry which portrayed blacks with stereotypes, Micheaux’s films had black characters in mysteries, gangster films and westerns. His films were written, directed, produced and portrayed by predominately all black cast and crew.

In 1924 he introduced the movie-going world to Paul Robeson in the film, Body and Soul.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Real characters

Given the times, his accomplishments in publishing and film are extraordinary, including being the first African-American to produce a film to be shown in “white” movie theaters. In his motion pictures, he moved away from the “Negro” stereotypes being portrayed in film at the time. Additionally, in his film Within Our Gates, Micheaux attacked the racism depicted in D.W. Griffith’s film, The Birth of a Nation.

The Producers Guild of America called him “The most prolific black – if not most prolific independent – filmmaker in American cinema.”

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Filmography

1919

* The Homesteader
* Within Our Gates

1920

* The Brute
* Symbol of the Unconquered

1922

* Gunaslaus Mystery
* Deceit
* The Dungeon
* The Virgin of the Seminole
* Son of Satan

1923

* Jasper Landry’s Will

1924

* Body and Soul

1926

* The Spider’s Web

1927

* Millionaire

1928

* When Men Betray
* Easy Street

1929

* Wages of Sin

1930

* Darktown Revue

 

1931

* The Exile

1932

* Veiled Aristocrat
* Black Magic
* Ten Minutes to Live

1933

* The Girl From Chicago
* Ten Minutes to Kill

1934

* Harlem After Midnight

1935

* Lem Hawkin’s Confession

1936

* Temptation
* Underworld

1937

* God’s Stepchildren

1938

* Swing

1939

* Birthright
* Lying Lips

1940

* The Notorious Elinor Lee

1948

* Betrayal

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Biography

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

In 2008, Patrick McGilligan published Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker.  McGilligan refers to Micheaux as, “…the Jackie Robinson of American film … a Muhammad Ali decades before his time” who “deserves to be considered in the same breath as the sainted D. W. Griffith.”

In his review of the book, Phillip Lopate is critical of McGilligan’s high praise for Micheaux’s work.  He wrote, “…we do a disservice to the achievements of truly superb black auteurs, like Charles Burnett, Spike Lee and Ousmane Sembène, by pretending Micheaux was a great filmmaker. The man had his own validity, as a pathfinder and as the creator of an intriguing, curious body of work, which reveals much about America’s past social and racial contradictions, and its melodramatic conventions.”

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Within Our Gates

Here is his “Within Our Gates” from 1919. It is the earliest known surviving feature film directed by an African American. The Library of Congress preserved it in 1993 from a single print found in Spain.

The story line is that a man abandons his fiance, an educated black woman.  She dedicates herself to helping a near bankrupt school for impoverished negro youths.

Within Our Gates was created in response to The Birth of a Nation which depicted southern whites in need of the Ku Klux Klan to protect them from blood thirsty blacks.

Micheaux showed the reality of racism, where a black man could be lynched for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Death

Micheaux died in Charlotte, North Carolina while on a business trip. His body was returned to Great Bend, Kansas, where he was interred in the Great Bend cemetery with other members of his family.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux
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