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reed magazine logoWinter 2008

Kalie Fasteau ’68

Advanced World Music

It’s hard to name a place Kali Fasteau ’68 hasn’t been. But it’s easy to hear most of them in her music.

Sit down with one of the many albums the New York-based musician and instrument-maker recorded on her own Flying Note label (, and you hear musical snatches of a globetrotting life in what she calls her “comprovisational” techniques. In her soprano saxophone, nai and shakuhachi flutes, piano, voice, and cello, one can hear African polyrhythms, piercing reed sounds from Turkey, haunting vocals that hearken back to training in classical Indian music, and the uniquely American musical idiom of free jazz.

Fasteau, whose Reed years were deeply intertwined with the cultural, social, and musical ferment of the 1960s, will complete another journey in June, when she returns to the college for the first time since graduating to participate as a presenter in the music-themed Reunions 2008. Fasteau also plans to release a live album from a recent appearance at a Finnish jazz festival.

At a coffee shop near her apartment in Harlem, Fasteau, who was known as Susan Fasteau as an undergrad, recounted decades of a varied musical life. From a childhood spent in New York and Paris around relatives who were classical musicians, it was an easy leap to concentrating on music as her family moved around during her father’s diplomatic career.

“It helps to hear a lot of music when you’re young,” she says of her musical inclinations, which were already in full swing when she arrived at Reed and threw herself into studying anthropology with professor Gail Kelly ’55 (1933-2005).

“My brother brought home jazz records, so alongside Bartok and Bach, Gregorian chants and Debussy, I heard Bobby Timmons, Thelonius Monk, Errol Garner, Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Harry Belafonte, and Miles Davis,” she says. “When I was 14, I dreamt that I was playing Bach at a piano recital and forgot the music, so I improvised the rest of the piece; it was well received. When I awoke I tried it on the piano and commenced developing my improvisational skills.”

At Reed, when she wasn’t spending summers in the South campaigning for civil rights or getting enmeshed in the turbulent racial politics of 1968 Oakland, Fasteau drew inspiration from fellow Reedies such as Larry Karush ’68, now an accomplished jazz pianist and composer based in Los Angeles (Karush will also be an instructor at Alumni College at Reed in June.)

“He was an inspiration to continue my music,” she says of Karush. “I learned a lot from listening to him practice in the chapel for four years,” she says. “I was also impressed by the initiative of Laura Fisher ’68 and her band of rockers, and by the musical humor of Tom Rossen [’65], David Labby [’66], and Peter Langston [’68].”

At Reed, other musical influences included soul artists such as Aretha Franklin, Fontella Bass, Marvin Gaye, and traditional delta blues artists. Loath to leave anything or anyone out, Fasteau followed up our interview with yet more influences via email: “I also reveled in the beautiful voice and oud of the great Nubian artist Hamza El Din; Ravi Shankar opened my ears to Indian music,” she wrote. “When Charles Lloyd’s quartet played at Reed during the spring of 1967, they blew the whole campus wide open with beautiful and expansive sounds; that occasion was a pivotal event for my musical direction.”

After a go at graduate studies in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University, she spent two decades following diverse musical directions. The 1970s were marked by stays, studies, and gigs throughout Europe, Morocco, and Zaire, as well as a 1977 idyll in Turkey with her multi-instrumentalist husband, the late Don Rafael Garrett, who died in 1989.

By 1980, she’d become an accomplished multi-instrumentalist herself, and went to study classical Indian vocal technique in the holy city of Varanasi. She was given the name Kali by her guru of the Sachidananda teachings in Chennai.

“Voice is really the first instrument,” Fasteau says. And vocals have played a significant role in some of her recent records. Using a technique she calls “international vocalese,” a contemporary take on bebop scat singing, she says it is possible to distill a complex set of influences and musical ideas and bring them together.

“Like a painter, I select from the vast palette of vocal sounds that reach my ears, and non-logically and non-verbally combine them to express feelings that transcend national boundaries,” she explains.

Fasteau will offer both a concert performance and a hands-on workshop during Reunions 2008. She also plans to share her theory of improvisation, “The Tao of Music,” which she describes as the application of structural anthropology to spontaneous composition. “The essence of creating music is combining yin and yang parameters of sound so as to enhance their distinctive qualities moving through time,” she says.

—Will Swarts ’92

reed magazine logoWinter 2008