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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