A Musical Tribute to the Life of William Sims

On November 12th, 2016 Will Sims (OJW alumnus) was killed in an attack that began with a racial slur.Will_Sims_Concert

Join us for this concert to honor Will’s life presented by his musical community the day before what would have been his 29th birthday.

Saturday, July 1st


55 Washington Street in Jack London Square, Oakland

This is a free concert. Proceeds from contributions made at the door will go toward Oaktown Jazz Workshops’ “William Sims Private Lesson Scholarship Fund”

Young Musician Spotlight



Photo © 2017 David Tau

Oaktown Jazz Workshops (OJW) Alumnus, Elé Howell, is a dedicated young musician that feels jazz is a ceremonial music. “To athletes, a basketball game is not just a game. And to musicians, jazz is not just an art form – it is giving back to the community.”

Born in San Francisco, California, Elé started imitating the sounds he heard at a young age and first started playing drums when his uncle put a set of bongo drums in front of him. While growing up, Elé’s father, Richard Howell Jazztree, a professional saxophonist, brought him to many of his rehearsals and performances where Elé was mentored by some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s top musicians. Pianist Arthur Khu was crucial in Elé’s development as a musician and drummer, and EW Wainwright, gave Elé his first drum, a djembe, and proceeded to teach him through the call and response method of musical instruction.

As a young child, Elé was heavily influenced by the recordings of West African music that he heard at home by artists such as Yousou ndour, Salif Keita, and Mamady Keïta. The musical community that his father is part of enabled Elé to learn from such greats as drummers Deszon Claiborne, Babatunde Lea, and Larry Vann.

But it was at Oaktown Jazz Workshops that Elé became involved with an organized jazz ensemble for the very first time. Elé joined OJW at the age of 14, and is now a college freshman. He stated, “I always looked forward to Wednesdays at Oaktown Jazz, where other people my age were taking music seriously. My favorite times at OJW were when Jack Dorsey (drum instructor) pulled me aside to say, ‘Here’s how you read this rhythm, and this is this technique, and you hold the sticks like this,’ – that opened up a whole other world for me. So that was one of my favorite parts of going to OJW, not only getting to play, but also getting to learn how to read music!’

Elé Howell is currently studying music performance at New York University and will be on tour as a professional drummer this summer.

Catch Elé performing with his fathers group, The Richard Howell & Sudden Changes, at The Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, CA Saturday, June 3rd at 8PM.

Khalil Shaheed Scholarship Fund 2016


Dear Friend of Oaktown Jazz Workshops,

It is thanks to you that we enter 2017 with the momentum of over two decades full of supporting young musicians and presenting family friendly concerts at venues and schools throughout the Bay Area.  Recently we have added classes in improvisation, music theory, and percussion at our location in Jack London Square.  All of this programming is built around Oaktown Jazz Workshops’ year-round, twice weekly, jazz performance workshops where students learn the tradition of jazz directly from professional master musicians.

Young musicians from diverse backgrounds regularly meet at OJW where they are given high quality music education in a safe and supportive environment.  As they develop their musicianship they receive guidance that allows them to both discover their own distinct musical voices and become supportive members of an ensemble.  Many of today’s internationally celebrated jazz musicians including Ambrose Akinmusire, Jonathan Finlayson, and Dayna Stephens, took some of their first solos at OJW, but more importantly, the skills that young people pick up through our program help to prepare them for adulthood.  Gaining the courage to improvise a solo in front of an audience gives a child the confidence to share their thoughts and ideas with others.  And collaborating creatively as a part of a group naturally encourages young people to become more engaged community members.

OJW’s Founding Director, Khalil Shaheed, was committed to passing jazz on to the next generation of musicians through a historically authentic form of jazz education, complete with mentors, performance opportunities and access to live concerts. This approach is based on making jazz performance education accessible to all young people who value it.

Four years ago we launched the Khalil Shaheed Scholarship Fund to cover the cost of our workshops for young musicians who could not otherwise afford tuition.  Please help Oaktown Jazz Workshops continue to thrive and serve as a local community asset by making a contribution today. Your support, in whatever amount you can manage, will encourage our children’s creativity, elevate music education and appreciation, and enrich our community.


Ravi Abcarian
Executive Director

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By Alison Stapp/Laney Tower

Oaktown Jazz Workshop’s Ravi Abcarian inspires a new generation of musicians

Oaktown Jazz Workshop’s founder, Khalil Shaheed, was only 13 years old when he painted a moustache on his face and slinked into Chicago’s jazz clubs to see America’s greatest jazz musicians. It was the 1950’s in Chicago, and the iconic Blue Note jazz club was hosting musicians like Louis Armstrong and “King” Oliver. Soon Shaheed would interrupt his classical music education to tour with the Woody Shaw and the Buddy Miles bands.

After he tired of touring and was ready to settle down, Oakland—which had a thriving African American population—became his new home. Shaheed had a vision to educate Oakland’s inner city kids about their musical roots and uniquely African American art form.

In 1994, Shaheed launched Oaktown Jazz Workshop with funding from Oakland’s Office of Parks and Recreation.  Oaktown was a passion realized. “To preserve …America’s Classical Music, Jazz… we need a community of teachers, mentors, and storytellers who know the importance of the next generation to receive this art form,” said Shaheed. Even after being diagnosed with cancer he kept the school going.

Shaheed’s friend and multi-talented musician, Ravi Abcarian was the obvious choice to step into Shaheed’s shoes when he became ill. Abcarian worked closely with Mr. Shaheed as Oaktown Jazz Workshop’s Educational Director and was also responsible for implementing jazz programs for non-profit music education programs and at Bay Area public and private schools.

The Port of Oakland, City of Oakland Cultural Funding Program and Alameda County Arts Commission help keep Oaktown Jazz in operation along with the support of foundations such as The Clorox Company Foundation, The East Bay Community Foundation and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund who provide about a third of Oaktown Jazz Workshop’s support.

And the parents are very involved, always doing things to support their children and the school.  “It’s really grassroots, and we make a conscious effort to stay independent.,” said Ron Marabuto, a professional jazz drummer and one of Oaktown Jazz Workshop’s instructors.

The vision that Shaheed had is alive and well, and Ravi continually adds workshops as outreach becomes more and more effective. The program has expanded to offer music theory and improvisation and percussion classes. Its Jack London Square location provides perfect place for Sunday afternoon concerts.

Youth mentors have always been a strong suit for Oaktown. OJW alumnus Anthony Mills-Branch is now a mentor, and summer always brings forth more youth mentors. “We have a great Board of Directors and Advisory Board. Laney’s John Santos presents master classes and has hosted workshops, and the core faculty is the real deal, professional musicians from around the area,” Ravi said as he reflected on the program.

A Q&A WITH OAKTOWN’S Ravi abcarian

Laney Tower (LT): Why is it important for the kids to work with young mentors?

Ravi Abcarian (RA): We might tell them something as their instructors but when someone who’s just six or seven years older than them tells them the same thing it means much more. Alumna, Aneesa Al-Musawwir, after getting her Master’s degree from Michigan State, came out and talked with the kids about her life. She’s done so many things for being that young. It was just a great opportunity for the kids to talk with someone about what their next move might be.

LT: What’s the best idea you’ve had that’s been successful?

RA: We have these workshops that have been around for about twenty years. Sometimes the kids would come in and be very intimidated, so now we have added an improvisation class and we have been successful in giving young musicians the musicianship and confidence that prepares them to enter into our year-round workshops.


At the Oaktown Jazz Workshop, Genius Wesley shows off his skills on the drums as one of the organization’s mentors, Anthony Mills-Branch accompanies him on bass. The program uses jazz to inspire a new generation of musicians through close, personalized mentorship with professional musicians.


Oaktown Jazz Workshops’ saxophone instructor, Richard Howell, leads young musicians as they learn a new tune.

Justice for Will Sims

Rest in Peace Will Sims. On November 12th, 2016 Oaktown Jazz Workshops’ keyboardist and alumnus (2001 to 2006) William Sims was beaten, shot and killed in El Sobrante, CA. 10 days later the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office announced one arrest and a manhunt for two other suspects charged with murder with a hate crime enhancement for Will Sims death. The hate crime enhancement is due to investigators belief that the three suspects were motivated to attack Will because of his race. Please join us for a candle light vigil this Sunday, November 27th at 5:30PM at 4191 Appian Way, El Sobrante 94803.