Born: January 24 Primary Instrument: Bass, acoustic
Bassist Bhagwan Khalsa, one of the most sought-after acoustic bassists in the DC area, is currently a member of the Eric Byrd Trio. His original arrangements are essential to shaping the sound of the trio, and he has recorded on all of the trio’s albums.
With the Eric Byrd Trio, Khalsa has traveled extensively around the globe, performing and teaching music, and in 2001, the trio had the opportunity to travel under the auspices of the US State Department as Jazz Ambassadors. Since 2001, they’ve returned to Peru twice and Bolivia five times; they have performed at the Montreaux Jazz Festival and have toured in Estonia and the United Arab Emirates. The Eric Byrd Trio performed at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in 2013 and is on the slate for 2014. They have appeared at the Friday night jazz program at Westminster Presbyterian Church in D.C. Khalsa also performs with Sharon Clark and Vince Evans at La Porta Italian restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia.
Khalsa has performed with other world-class musicians such as saxophonists Sonny Fortune, Eric Alexander, Gary Thomas, Cecil Payne, David “Fathead” Newman, Buck Hill, guitarist Mike Stern, pianist Kenny Drew, Jr., and vocalists Giacomo Gates and Kenny Washington. He is a versatile musician, comfortably playing both pop and blues idioms with a variety of local bands. In the mid 1990s, he played with the Bullets Brass Band, which played a range of genres for the Washington Bullets home games.
In a review of a Diane Daly album, I Ain’t Blue, in which Khalsa plays bass, pianist Wayne Wilentz calls Khalsa’s solos “unique and tuneful.” A fan review of a 2010 concert by the Eric Byrd Trio in Easton, Maryland, says Khalsa’s “sonorous and melodic solos are inspirational.”
Bhagwan Khalsa was born in Baltimore in 1971 as Shane Wilhelm and grew up in the Virginia and D.C. area. Although his parents are of Irish, German, and Polish origin, they were devotees of Kundalini Yoga and were active as musicians in the local Sikh temple, or gurudwaras, and their son was given a Sikh name, Bhagwan Khalsa. The family lived at various ashrams, and Khalsa attended Montessori schools in the area until he reached age 12.
Then he was sent to India, to a boarding school in the northern town of Mussoorie, at the foothills of the Himalayas. There, he and his fellow students learned the Sikh martial art of Gatka and traveled throughout the state of Punjab giving demonstrations at festivals, until the unrest in the 1980s that culminated in the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Ghandi by her Sikh bodyguards.
Khalsa returned to the U.S. and soon picked up the electric bass. He began collaborating with a local heavy metal band called Tipper Gore (after Al Gore’s wife, who was noted for her campaign to censor some popular music). He also studied classical guitar at Northern Virginia Community College in Loudoun, Virginia. From there, he undertook a more formal approach to the study of music at the Grove School of Music in Los Angeles. It was here that Khalsa graduated from heavy-metal, moving the basics of scales and chords to more advanced theory.
Armed with his newly-gained skills, he landed a year-long gig on a cruise ship in Hawaii, playing six nights a week. Returning to DC, he began performing with local jazz musicians and studying upright bass with bass masters Steve Novosel, David Jernigan and the late Keter Betts. Khalsa names Ray Brown as a major musical influence.
Khalsa has also engaged in jazz education. He spent two years teaching electric and acoustic bass at the Washington Conservatory of Music and currently teaches weekly at Paul Pieper’s Jazz Workshop In 2005, Khalsa formed B&B Music Lessons, along with trumpeter Brad Clements, who was a fellow musician aboard the Hawaiian cruise ship. The school provides in-home music lessons on a full range of instruments. Their mission statement is “to make the world a better place through music, one lesson at a time.” Such could be Khalsa’s own motto – to make the world a better place through music, one concert and one album at a time.