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Korla Pandit

The mysterious and mesmerizing Korla Pandit first emerged in the '50s as one of the wackier figures in the then burgeoning exotica movement which included such endearing and enduring characters as Martin Denny and Esquivel. Born in New Delhi (as legend has it), he migrated to England, then to the University of Chicago, and finally Hollywood, where in the late '40s he became NBC's staff organist. Before long he was a regular sight on the small (and then black and white) screen, and a strange one indeed: a dreamily handsome young Indian man bedecked in a jeweled turban with a sanguine smile who never said a word, but merely coaxed strange, beautifully eerie sounds from his Hammond B-3 electric organ. His repertoire consisted of a few originals and a lot of jazz and pop standards, all of which he embroidered with heavy Middle Eastern and mild Latin influences to create a sensual exotic sound. Today Pandit's music seems pleasantly kitschy and amusingly dated but at the time was some of the strangest and most bizarre stuff to hit the mainstream.

In the '60s, when America and the rest of the world discovered rock and roll and society started to come apart at its seams, Pandit and his exotica cohorts became less relevant and slipped out of the limelight, but Pandit never ceased to draw an audience for his live shows and went on touring into old age. In the '90s, buoyed by the renewed popular interest in lounge and exotica among "Incredibly Strange Music" and Space Age Bachelor Pad" enthusiasts, he released several more collections of recordings, continued touring widely, and even appeared as himself in Ed Wood, Tim Burton's homage to the '50s Z-Grade filmmaker. The enigmatic organ impresario passed away in 1998.

Pandit's "Magnetic Theme" was the theme for his television show on Los Angeles's KTLA in the early '50s. It's included on the SFTRI Pandit collection entitled Exotica 2000.

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