Khalil Shaheed had the extraordinary ability to blend genres through his music. The legendary jazz trumpeter was one of the few musicians who could bridge a gap between decades old music to more contemporary sounds.
After facing a valiant effort in his fight against cancer, Khalil Shaheed passed away last Friday at his home in Oakland. He was 63.
A Grammy-nominated artist, he was recently in four bands: Big Belly Blues, Mo’ Rockin’ Project, Open Mind Ensemble and Redwood Brass. His body of work included more than 30 albums. He played alongside music greats like Buddy Miles, Jimi Hendrix and Taj Mahal.
A native of Pittsburgh, Shaheed eventually relocated to the Bay Area, settling in Oakland, a city with a rich history, but one riddled with drugs and violence. He founded "Oaktown Jazz Workshops" in 1994, providing a safe place in which youth would have the ability to draw their own experience from the world of jazz and musical education.
"It's been successful not only in being an after school activity and a safe place for them (kids) to be, but it has given them a voice in music," said Ravi Abcarian, interim executive director. "There have been so many wonderful performances and so many success stories of students getting into universities and going on musically."
A convert to Islam, Khalil's actions emanated the understanding of what it means to be a believer - giving selflessly, working toward the good of humanity and spreading beauty and love to others. "He wanted kids to have access to music and hearing jazz," said Kate Shaheed. "They were the seams of his adult life."
"He was so committed to Oakland. We would rehearse at his house, in the heart of the East, where all the students would come through to his spot," said Tyson Amir, a fellow musician. "He really tried to make that impact in Oakland, he could have done something somewhere else, but he chose to touch hearts, save lives and do whatever he could to make it better.”
Having met over nine years ago, Amir’s experience with Shaheed has been a very personal one. He sees Shaheed as his first true mentor. Amir attributes his own foundation of love and appreciation of music to the exposure by Shaheed, referring to him his “musical godfather.” “I remember the artist I was before meeting Khalil, and the artist I became after working with him. He really taught me to appreciate music and how to find my voice,” said Amir.
Shaheed was noted for his ability to effortlessly bring together individuals from different backgrounds. “So many young musicians have stories about working with Khalil. At his ceremony, you saw all of those crossroads coming together - all different backgrounds, religions, races, to pay tribute to this man who touched so much of the world through his music,” said Amir.
While the work of Oaktown Jazz Workshops will continue, the absence of Shaheed will be felt amongst those who worked and studied with him. Said Abcarian, “It's an incredible loss you know, while the workshop will continue to grow into the future, Khalil's absence will definitely change the feel of the workshops themselves, because he was such a beautiful person, and so engaging with both students and other instructors.”
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Khalil’s nonprofit – Oaktown Jazz Workshops. Gifts can be made online at www.oaktownjazz.org at or sent to P.O. Box 3568, Oakland, CA 94609. Thank you for helping to preserve Khalil's legacy.