In 1995, I was a 23 year-old cellist and a bartender at Chez Panisse. On my days off, I’d take BART through the hills to a bus, and then walk another twenty minutes, with my cello, to a housing development in Pleasant Valley, to study jazz with a violinist from the Turtle Island String Quartet. It was a long journey; cars would whiz by, and sometimes I would I pause to rest along the way and eat a snack in the baking sun between suburban driveways, apparently the only pedestrian in all of Pleasant Valley.
That year, I also enrolled at the Ali Akbar Khan School of Music in San Raphael. My roommate, Chris, was a cook at Café Venezia and an accomplished guitarist, and he and I had been listening to Shakti, by John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain, and attempting to recreate the blustery eastern fusion in our Berkeley apartment. It was messy, and we knew it. We also knew the only school for Indian classical music in the US was just a bridge away, so we got in Chris’ van and headed to Marin.
Surprisingly, the beginning classes were taught by the septuagenarian Ali Akbar Khan himself, or Khan Sahib, as we all called him, the master. We removed our shoes before entering the school, we learned rhythmic tali patterns by clapping, and Hindustani solfege (Sa Re Ga in place of Do Re Mi), and we were instructed to never step over a musical instrument, as this would disrupt its connection with the heavens. Khan Sahib’s musical teaching was eye opening for me, but I was most impressed by the atmosphere of respect, love and kindness the school engendered. There were about thirty of us, cramped in the classroom, holding violins, sitars, sarods, cellos, and often a young man with a double bass, all listening and concentrating intently, in stocking feet.
Indian classical music is not really about making music, but was designed as a pathway to divinity, a way out of the self, to a place of peace, love and understanding. At the end of each lesson, the most devoted students would form a line to pay their respect to Khan Sahib by kneeling and touching his feet, and after a few months of study, I took my place in line. When it was my turn, I touched Khan Sahib’s feet, and he looked down into my eyes and asked, “How is your father?” The question was both very kind and rather absurd, as I was sure Khan Sahib had never met my father, but I smiled and said, “He is well, thank you.”
Khan Sahib passed away in 2009, but his lessons remain in the minds of so many of us. My father is still quite well, and I will be with him next week, celebrating his 77th birthday. I like to think OAKLAND YARD is not an end in itself - not really about wine at all - but rather a vehicle, a place for us to foster peace, kindness, respect, and love in a world that seems to require these values more than ever. Please help us.
Start tonight with THURSDAY NIGHT FLIGHTS: Italian Reds or French Whites - 4 to 8pm – three wines for $12
This SATURDAY, August 19th – 2 to 5pm - $10 Methode Sauvage winemaker Chad Hindspours his 2016 Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc
This SUNDAY, August 20th – 2 to 6pm – SPARKLING WINE TASTING - $15