A New Home for Oaktown Jazz Workshops
Khalil Shaheed and company set up shop in Jack London Square.
Jen White, East Bay Express
There is certainly no shortage of shuttered storefronts in Oakland, but as of July 1, the city will be able to boast one less boarded-up building and one more desperately needed community arts center. The former Tony Roma's restaurant, the spacious spot at 55 Washington in Jack London Square has been granted by the Port of Oakland to local jazz trumpeter Khalil Shaheed to house Oaktown Jazz Workshops (OJW), the musical education project he has helmed for the past seventeen years. Both Port Director Omar Benjamin and Mayor Jean Quan strongly encouraged the move.
Now with a permanent place of residence, OJW can expand into summer programming and performances as well as practice sessions without the interruptions typical of after-school hours at the Dimond Recreation Center or Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts. Shaheed will also be able to safely store the jazz library, pianos, bass amps, and countless other instruments and equipment OJW has acquired over the years. The building has tentatively been titled Nadine's. The performance stage remains under construction.
Until now, the public centers have sufficed but have tended to limit OJW'S meetings to twice weekly. Anywhere from two to twenty young musicians come to practice with Shaheed in the evenings, jamming and studying, practicing and even recording (the group's third album is in the works for this summer). Kids usually come to OJW after they have begun learning an instrument in school and are ready for a more intensive way to practice and improve.
"We know it's important to nurture passionate young musicians," Shaheed said, "and I think that practicing with full-time musicians makes it real for them." Among the list of full-timers are OJW director of education and stand-up bassist Ravi Abcarian and drummer Jack Dorsey. "The workshops make learning very accessible and jazz definitely helps to keep learning playful, too."
Whatever the workshops do, it is obviously working. So says Oakland City Councilwoman and long-time OJW supporter Desley Brooks. "When you see Khalil's students perform, it's not as though you're watching a bunch of young people at a recital — you're watching professionals," Brooks said. "Not everyone is a performer, but Oaktown gives kids real confidence and presence so that they can play with anyone and really pursue their passion."
What's good for the kids may be good for Oakland. Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, eager to create a safe, fun environment downtown, pointed out how convenient it will be for students to hop on the free B shuttle on Broadway to get to Jack London Square. And if that doesn't lure them, there's always the Ben & Jerry's next door.
At a recent OJW session, thirteen-year-old flautist Maureen Sides explained how the four years that she has been studying with Shaheed and Abcarian are the reason she can understand music theory and jazz music as a whole. Now she regularly listens to KCSM 91.1 and eagerly accompanied her parents to a jazz festival last month. "The workshops help so much because there are lots of older kids around and everyone is teaching each other." Sides said. "If I don't get something right away I feel really comfortable asking for help."
When students head home from OJW, they have practice exercises and jazz reports. Both Shaheed and Abcarian emphasize the importance of jazz history for their students. "We ask them for written reports that they share with the group," Abcarian explained, "and they come back excited. They seem to like it, which is weird!"
Sides said she also gets to meet and play with Oaktown alumni like Ambrose Akinmusire and Kaz George from time to time, which is a bonus. Akinmusire, who released an album on New York's Blue Note label this year, plans to teach and be involved in the development department of OJW when he returns to Oakland.
In light of all the effort put into OJW, Khalil is overjoyed about the new building. "Seventeen years!" he joked. "It's about time!" He also said that it was "just the right time for such a generous gesture from the city to the arts community, considering the current political and economic climate of cutbacks and all that."
Shaheed has been living and breathing jazz music since the Sixties, playing and performing with legends like Buddy Miles and Taj Mahal. His career and his cucumber-cool disposition blur the line between work and play just as much as the workshops do for his students.
To blur that line even further, there's an additional perk to accompany the new location — after-hours jam sessions. Kids just want a place to play. It's as simple as that.
Oaktown Jazz Workshops moving to Jack London Square, Will Celebrate July 16
Susan Mernit, Oakland Local
This Saturday, July 16, Oaktown Jazz Workshops - OJW - will celebrate the grand opening of its new home at 55 Washington in Jack London Square. The community is invited to show their support and enjoy, live jazz.
All proceeds to benefit Oaktown Jazz Workshops youth programs.
Along with classes, workshops and private lessons being offered, the new facility also houses Nadine’s performance space.
Jazz greats Faye Carol, Kenny Washington, and Eddie Marshall, spoken word artist Ise Lyfe and many more will be in attendance and performing with the workshops’ youth ensemble to celebrate their new stage, lounge and practice space.
This event will raise funds to support the expansion of Oaktown Jazz Workshops' instructional programs and its new building costs.
OJW has taught and nurtured young jazz musicians in the Oakland community for 17 years, emphasizing the importance of jazz as an indigenous American art form and challenging students to improve their skills in a collaborative, creative and safe environment.
Based in Oakland and formed in 1994, Oaktown Jazz Workshops' purpose is to promote, preserve and present jazz so that all youth, and especially African American youth, develop a sense of ownership and pride in jazz music as a uniquely American cultural tradition.
Oaktown Jazz Workshop Grand Opening
7 p.m. Saturday, July 16
Khalil Shaheed’s Oaktown Jazz Workshops - Nadine’s Jack London Square, 55 Washington in Oakland
Thursday, February 8, 2007 (SF Chronicle)
BLACK HISTORY MONTH/For this jazz trumpeter, teaching is his pride and joy
Daniel King, Chronicle Staff Writer
Almost nothing pleases Khalil Shaheed more than playing trumpet, from the
eruptive, ceiling-high sounds of bebop to the quietly emerging stories
that arise during ballads. But nothing challenges and rewards him more
than teaching Bay Area students to project their own voices on an
The Oakland jazz trumpeter, 58, has been teaching and performing here for 27 years, ever since moving from Chicago. He is one of the Bay Area's steadiest jazz educators, having founded Oaktown Jazz Workshop 13 years ago as an after-school spot for students ages 10 to 18.
He got his start in Buddy Miles' band and was handpicked, at age 19, by Jimi Hendrix for New York recording sessions. But Shaheed's teaching gigs energize him just as much: He also leads a music camp each year at Allen Temple Baptist Church and directs the Portfest music festival. As part of his outreach efforts, he runs several jazz-in-the-schools programs,
including ones with the San Jose Jazz Society and the San Francisco Symphony.
As an improviser, Shaheed has a clarity and brightness that light up a room: Whether playing Hank Mobley tunes or Moroccan music, he is less concerned with speed, rhythmic flare and note combinations than with tone quality. He uses the body and shape of his notes to tell his story.
Q: What are your basic goals for students in your workshop?
A: The goal of what we do at Oaktown is, first, to expose them to jazz music, because jazz is basically the only true art form that was born and raised in this country. Everything else was kind of developed somewhere else and brought here, but this belongs to us. And it's important to me that kids in America -- especially kids of African descent -- get some ownership. It's basically African music that was influenced by a lot of other cultures in New Orleans and grew out of that.
Q: What do you tell students who say that while jazz was born here, hip-hop is also detectably American in its origins, so jazz isn't the only American art in that sense?
A: The whole thing with that is, hip-hop comes from jazz. If you want to get down to the bare bottom of it, before there were drum machines, the hip-hop beats were played on drums, and the drum set as we know it was invented to play jazz. So there couldn't be a hip-hop without jazz, and we been rapping for years. If you go back to Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong --
that was the beginning of rap right there. Even before James Brown.
Q: What are your thoughts on the concept of Black History Month as it relates to jazz education?
A: Every month is Black History Month. I'm very grateful for the fact that we have a Black History Month, even though it is the shortest month of the year. But I think there needs to be a lot of work, because the ownership of this music has been pushed into a gray area, like it wasn't black people's music. And that bothers me, because there are musicians who went through a whole bunch of stuff to make it possible for everybody to own
this music. You can't take away the fact that Billie Holiday and Lester Young had to go into the back door of a hotel where they were playing. Those things can't be denied and they can't be written out of the history, and the majority of them died broke. And when they're broke, their records get popular and it's white people buying their records, and all of a sudden the record company makes a bunch of money. My goal is to make sure
the history is represented right.
Q: One of your projects is Jazz Encounters, the outreach series at Yoshi's. What led you to create it?
A: We might bring 40 kids down, and Branford Marsalis will do a workshop with them. So will a whole bunch of people: Joe Zawinul, Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Ellis Marsalis. They just donate their time, and Yoshi's donates the place and sends in a soundman so we can do it right. Growing up, I didn't have a Jazzschool. I didn't have a Stanford Jazz Workshop. I didn't have any of those things. What I had was some cats in
Chicago who didn't mind me hanging out and bugging them. I was following around Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman, Richard Abrams, all those guys. They were my rock stars. Cats will take the time, and they all told me, "Look, I'm gonna help you, but here's your job: You gotta keep it going. You gotta turn other people on." That was the whole reason I started Oaktown
in the first place. So I invite kids to gigs, too. I tell them, "Bring your horn and play a couple tunes with me." They learn more on the gig than they can learn in any workshop.
Q: How would you describe the sound and spirit of your own music?
A: Depends which band it is! But each time, I'm really concerned about tone, as opposed to how many notes I can play. One of the things I hope I can convey is beautiful tone quality, but also knowing what not to play. It's just like a conversation: If I play a line, I want to see what the rhythm section's reaction is to that line. I always remember this thing Dizzy Gillespie said: He said it took him 30 years to figure out what not to play. Even if I'm playing fast bebop, I like to leave breathing room. I like to hear what other musicians have to say back.
The Khalil Shaheed Octet: Black History Month celebration with John Handy,
Faye Carol, Ledisi and Kenny Washington. 7:30 p.m. Friday. Allen Temple
Baptist Church, 8501 International Blvd., Oakland. Tickets: $5-$15. Call