Khalil Shaheed Remembered (January 19, 1949-March 23, 2012)
I had Khalil on my radio show often and wrote about his work with Oaktown Jazz Workshop for decades. The last time I saw him in performance was at the Poetry, Art and Music event 2011 at the Garden Center in Oakland's Lake Merritt Park. He was with the Brass ensemble. They were great!
I remember sharing a booth with him one evening at Yoshi's, I don't remember the artist. Another time, he and his daughter Savannah (drummer) were at a concert at Zellerbach. I think Terrence Blanchard was performing on a double bill with another ensemble.
Khalil produced great music events, such as the concert series at the new park at the Port of Oakland. Hugh Masekela was on the bill, year one. The series at Sweets Ballroom were sweet, great music and a great time. It's too bad profit was always a measure of success, and so like the huge outdoor concerts, they too ended.
His jam sessions at various clubs in Jack London Square were legendary, as were the ensembles: Big Belly Blues with Ed Kelly, the Out Band with Angela Wellman and others who could play unscripted music, Mo'Rockin with Yassir Chadley, Glen Pearson and others. He was one of the first musicians to feature women jazz artists in his ensembles.
The musical collaborations with Deborah Vaughn and Dimensions Dance Theatre were also legendary, as was Oaktown's work with the Michael Morgan and the East Bay Symphony and the presenters of yearly Martin King event first held at First Congregational Church, "In the Name of Love," later at Calvin Simmons Theatre, then Scottish Rite Temple in Oakland.
He brought live jazz to the Muslim community in East Oakland at several concerts at the Elijah Muhammad Cultural Center. The free clinics Oaktown hosted at Yoshi's for kids with visiting musicians was legendary as were the annual fundraisers where the children performed, alumni presented as well as their teachers, Khalil among them. I remember when dreams for the Oaktown Jazz Club where artists of all ages could perform in a nonalcoholic venue, a place family friendly, became a reality after OTJW's long sojourn at Diamond Park. OTJW was like the University of California at Berkeley's Young Musicians Program in the 'hood, not that scholarship was sacrificed, but the kids who needed the music more critically could walk rather than hop BART to make immediate contact and connection with a man and a vision which spanned the range of what is possible.
We never spoke of his personal transformation. I don't know why. I think he said at one point when I inquired that he wanted to downplay that aspect of his history: his sojourn in prison, his battles with substance abuse, his conversion to Al Islam. I recognized his tireless work with the youth as if his time was limited and he had a lot to accomplish in too short a time. I wish we had explored this part of his story, it would have been instructive for other former felons who didn't know forgiveness was possible or that second chances were a reality especially for those who wanted to work with youth.
I thought his blended family was a model of tolerance and love, that is, his immediate family with his two lovely children, wife-- the lovely artist and university administrator, Kate, and co-parent, scholar and musician, Fred Harris.
I didn't see him once the disease began to take its toll. Every time I saw him, he looked a bit thinner in the end, but healthy. Last year when I participated with his wife, Kate, in a healing ritual hosted by the City of Oakland, traditional African healer, Sobunfu Some officiating, Kate said, her husband was dying and she was trying to help him let go.
I have lost so many friends and hear of others who are making their final rounds as I write this, but well . . . sometimes one's relationship with a person is not close, so one cannot give final farewells, whisper thank you into their ears. One just hopes the dearly departing one knows he or she is loved and that the embrace is larger than those in the death chamber holding him or her safe, especially for people like Khalil Shaheed whose impact is immeasurable both nationally and globally.
Another star has fallen. . . the sky is a bit darker for its absence, the day less brighter at dawn.
In Islam we believe that when some one leaves us physically that they are not really gone. Sweet Honey sings about this as well in their song, "Breaths" where they caution us to listen more closely to "things than to beings," that "those who have died, have never really left; the dead have a pact with the living."
In performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3e-zLKyZLw
Peace and Blessings Khalil Shaheed, may your soul's journey continue, your reward secure. Ashay. Amen. And so it is.
John Santos wrote a beautiful tribute to Khalil, which I am sharing here.
"In 1994, Khalil founded the Oaktown Jazz Workshop with the intention of not allowing the commodification and appropriation of jazz to prevent Oakland's youth from being exposed to it. He wanted to give them the opportunity to know and celebrate jazz and draw from its history and wisdom in their own creative ways. He also understood that Jazz is essential to teach life skills to kids, not only in Black and working class communities, but anywhere in this country. He frequently brought in Jazz greats to teach and play with the kids (Branford Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis, Jason Marsalis, Gene Harris, Art Farmer, Terrence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Arturo Sanduval, Joe Zawinul, Michael Brecker, Billy Higgins, Faye Carroll, Kenny Washington, John Handy, Taj Mahal, Dave Holland, Winard Harper, George Cables, Steve Turre, Phil Woods, Brian Lynch, Danny Armstrong, Ron Belcher, Glen Pearson, Glenn Richman, and Charles McNeal to name a few). Many of his kids have gone on to become solid professional musicians, teachers and stars in their own right. It was a constant struggle, but he saw it through, eventually convincing all doubters and procuring sponsorship from many sources including the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation, Dr. Gary Bean, Carla Bley, the California Arts Council, CFK & Associates, City of Oakland-Cultural Affairs, East Bay Community Foundation, Fleishhacker Foundation, the Lenhard A. Stevens and Deborah C. Stevens Charitable Fund, Marin Community Foundation, Milagro Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Saints and Sinners Foundation, See's Candies, Target Foundation, Thomas Long Foundation, Walter and Elise Haas Sr. Fund, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
He was a tireless warrior for jazz and for our kids, bringing jazz to High Schools and Middle Schools throughout Oakland, the greater San Francisco Bay Area, and Northern California. The city finally gave Oaktown Jazz a beautiful space in Jack London Square across from Yoshi's in 2010. I hope it can flourish the way Khalil dreamed and deserves. Before they got their own space, he'd regularly bring many of us in to work with his kids at the Church on International Blvd and give them a well-rounded perspective of where the music is coming from and how to participate, appreciate, and honor it at the same time. He taught respect for self and for others through Jazz. This is the neighborhood in which I live and I can tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt that his work is directly related to what sanity still exists between the shootings that happen here every day or two. In that regard, Khalil was a great blessing and saviour for countless kids and their families - truly a local treasure.
"I last saw him a few weeks ago at the Eddie Marshall memorial (there's another incredible brother who left a HUGE whole in our hearts and our music) at the 57th Street Gallery in Oakland. He looked tired and swollen from the chemo, and was obviously in pain, but he had to be there with his family because that's the kind of person he is. His warm smile showed through just the same. His hug was weak, but his heart was irrepressible.
"I know of few others who are as loved and respected by their peers and all age ranges of our community. Khalil was fearless and spoke up in any setting on behalf of all of us - a real GIANT in our village. He was seriously funny with a wicked sense of humor, but also dead serious about his business. My family and I love that man and will forever be grateful for having him in our lives as a positive force and inspiration. I know that many of us will continue to carry him in all we do, as we attempt to honor his legacy of generosity, love, and goodwill. Much love and strength to the beautiful family he leaves behind. Much gratitude and light to your spirit good brother Khalil - asalam malecum."