On a sultry Sunday in mid-August 2021, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art celebrated its grand reopening with free public entry and musical fanfare, including a jazz ensemble near the museum steps. Their captivating music — unusual reinterpretations of traditional jazz standards that incorporate Indian and Middle Eastern classical melodies — attracted numerous bystanders who lined the nearby walls and filled seats at Mosaic Locale and adjacent bars and restaurants.
A trio of UC Santa Barbara professors forms the core of the band, aptly called Previously Committed. They augment their rigorous academic responsibilities by pouring their creative interests into music. Sumita Pennathur, a mechanical engineering professor, plays alto saxophone. Aashish Mehta, a political economics professor in the global studies department, excels on the keyboard, guitar and the Indian flute. Tevfik Bultan, professor and chair of the computer science department, commands the bass. He also writes most of the group’s music electronically; 80% of the songs are original compositions. The ensemble chose its name, Pennathur explains, “because one day I asked Henry Yang to come, and he said he was ‘previously committed’ (true story!).”