A letter from John Santos on Khalil Shaheed


I cannot begin to express my sadness around the passing of Brother Khalil Shaheed so soon. It leaves a gaping whole in our extended Oakland community as well as in my heart. He was a wonderful friend, colleague, father, mentor and human being - a grand soul. Khalil Shaheed (Tommy Hall) (1/19/49 to 3/23/12) came to the Bay Area from Chicago in the mid-seventies. I met him shortly there after when he was a member of a spankin' funk group called Kingfish (if I remember correctly) with drummer Jack Dorsey, bassist Tony Phillips, ex-Tower of Power lead singer Rick Stevens (Your Diamonds Sparkling in the Sand), and other luminaries. Tommy, as he was known back then, was a solid trumpeter with jazz and blues roots. It was at a time when everybody was partying a little overtime, to put it lightly, but those were also times of solidifying the San Francisco Bay Area musical family that cut across several genres of music, particularly Funk, Soul and Latin, and Tommy was a vibrant part of that scene. He converted to Islam and changed his name in the 80s, which was the major force in a total rebirth of the man, as he "cleaned up" and wholly dedicated himself to his art, his understanding of the world, and to community service. It instilled in him a contagious joy and enthusiastic attitude that remained to the end. He was a peaceful man on a mission and was exemplary for all of us in his focus on his spirituality, his family, his music and band, and last but not least, the kids in Oakland.

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.

john santos
Oakland, CA
March 24, 2012