Two of the top American-born Indian classical musicians will be performing Saturday night at the Unitarian Center at 87 4th St. in a benefit for the Ashland Zen Center.




Peter Van Gelder began his career as a professional musician in the 1960s, playing bass guitar and soprano saxophone in the Great Society, a San Francisco based rock band that featured lead singer Grace Slick, who would eventually sing for Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship.




As the Great Society's years came to an end, Van Gelder became one of the first American disciples of Maestro Ali Akbar Khan, with whom he studied the sitar, an Indian stringed instrument, both in India and at Khan's College of Music in Marin County, Calif., where Van Gelder still resides and teaches.




Over the years he has performed with the top musicians in his field, including Zakir Hussain, Chitresh Das and Lalgudi Krishnan.




Accompanying Van Gelder on the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument, will be Dana Pandey. Pandey began her Indian musical training under Maestro Khan on the sarode, but eventually shifted her attention to tabla and became a student of the great Alla Rakha, the tabla player who accompanied Ravi Shankar.




Pandey toured extensively with Zakir Hussain, Rakha's son, with whom she also played in Mickey Hart's Planet Drum, a multimedia world music band founded by the former Grateful Dead drummer.




Lauren Rubin, a music teacher at Southern Oregon University and tabla player herself, says that Ashland and the students at SOU are extremely lucky to have these two people coming to play such a personal concert.




"Not only is it rare to have two musicians of this caliber coming to play here," she says, "but Peter has been so generous in spending time with the students here in the past, and that is not necessarily common with musicians at his level."




The concert takes place Saturday, March 1, at the Unitarian Center, 87 4th St. in Ashland, at 8 p.m. Tickets are available in advance at the Music Coop for $15 or at the door for $18. Student tickets are $12.