[JPL] Influential jazz pianist BJ Papa dies in S.F.

Jazz Promo Services jazzpromo at earthlink.net
Wed Sep 17 07:48:51 EDT 2008


http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/09/16/BARM12UBL0.DTL

Influential jazz pianist BJ Papa dies in S.F.

Jesse Hamlin, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A musical tribute will be held Sept. 28 for BJ Papa, a San Francisco jazz
pianist who hosted jam sessions around town for decades and nurtured many
young musicians who passed through them.

His given name was William Jackson and he died of liver disease Aug. 31 at
his North Beach home. He was 72.

"There are many of us that graduated from the University of BJ," said singer
Kim Nalley, who honed her craft and expanded her repertoire under his
tutelage. "We never paid tuition, but we received the best jazz education
that can be had, on the bandstand and at the jam session."

Nalley, who played with him at the Wild West in Bernal Heights, Cafe Du Nord
and numerous other spots, hired the pianist to run the Sunday night jam
session at Jazz at Pearl's when she took over the now-closed North Beach
club several years ago.

It was one in a long list of joints where BJ Papa presided over the informal
sessions where jazz musicians have traditionally cut their teeth. A bebopper
whose spare, rhythmic style was shaped by his love of Thelonious Monk, he
performed at countless clubs, bars and cafes in North Beach and other San
Francisco neighborhoods, among them Mission Rock, Tropical Haight,
Soulville, the Streets of Paris and Cafe Prague. Saxophonists John Handy and
Bishop Norman Williams were among the artists who played with BJ Papa, a
genial man who could often be found sipping red wine at Caffe Trieste.

"He opened the door for a lot of musicians," said bassist-composer Marcus
Shelby, who began jamming with him at the Gathering Cafe on upper Grant
Avenue when he moved to town in 1996. That's where Shelby met a lot of the
musicians who play in his various bands. "He was such a loving cat," Shelby
added. "Everybody came to him first."

Born in Mobile, Ala., he learned music from his mother, a professional
pianist. As an Army medic in the mid-1950s, he was stationed in San
Francisco at Letterman General Hospital in the Presidio. He got the jazz bug
listening to bands at the noncommissioned officers' club, and began taking
saxophone lessons after leaving the service. (He told Nalley he switched
from saxophone to piano because he couldn't afford to get his horn out of
hock and there was always a piano around). He heard Charlie Parker, Dexter
Gordon and other stars in late-night sessions at the fabled Jimbo's Bop City
in the Fillmore district.

"Dewey Redman, John Handy, Frank Butler and a lot of others, they all helped
me," BJ Papa told writer Jerry Karp in 2005, two years after the Upper Grant
Avenue Art Fair Association honored him for his contribution to the music
scene and the culture of North Beach.

Some of the musicians he helped, including Nalley, bassist David Ewell and
trumpeter Henry Hung, will honor him from 2 to 8 p.m. on Sept. 28 at Mojito,
1337 Grant Ave., San Francisco. It's free to the public.

For more information, go to www.bjpapajazz.blogspot.com.


E-mail Jesse Hamlin at jhamlin at sfchronicle.com.


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