It was easy to take Khalil Shaheed for granted. The tireless trumpeter, who passed on March 23, 2012, was a fixture in Oakland cultural circles, having become synonymous with the words “jazz,” “music”, and “education.” As a performer, Shaheed played with Buddy Miles, Jimi Hendrix, Woody Shaw, Taj Mahal and many others; his recorded work spans over 30 albums, including his own work and music by Ledisi and Babatunde Lea. At the time of his death, Shaheed was in no less than four different bands: Big Belly Blues, Mo’ Rockin’ Project, Open Mind Ensemble, and Redwood Brass.
Oaktown Jazz Workshop, which Shaheed founded in 1994, kept the genre’s legacy alive by introducing thousands of local youth, instructed by professional musicians, to the music. In 1998, OJW spawned an offshoot program, Jazz in the Schools, which brought the OJW model to the Oakland School for the Arts, Fremont and Oakland High Schools, and various elementary and middle schools throughout Oakland. Another OJW program, Jazz Encounters, collaborated with Yoshi’s to feature lectures and demonstrations by world-class artists such as Branford Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval, Joe Zawinul and many others.
“To preserve this music, we need a community of teachers, mentors, and storytellers who know the importance of the next generation to receive this art form,” Shaheed wrote on OJW’s website. He was entirely committed to the preservation of jazz and the musical education of the youth, holding afterschool programs at Dimond Rec Center and Malonga Casquelord for many years, before OJW moved into its current digs at Nadine’s in Jack London Square in 2011.
In a 2007 article, written for Black History Month, which appeared in the SF Chronicle, Shaheed remarked on jazz’ connection to hip-hop and contemporary forms of black music:
“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.”
Eric K. Arnold has been writing about urban music culture since the mid-1990s, when he was the Managing Editor of now-defunct 4080 Magazine. Since then, he’s been a columnist for such publications as The Source, XXL, Murder Dog, Africana.com, and the East Bay Express; his work has also appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Vibe, Wax Poetics, SF Weekly, XLR8R, the Village Voice and Jamrock, as well as the academic anthologies Total Chaos and The Vinyl Ain’t Final. Eric began his journalistic career while DJing on college radio station KZSC, and remembers well the early days of hip-hop radio, before consolidation, and commercialization set in. He currently lives in Oakland, California.