I met BJ Papa when I was playing in a jazz quintet on Mission Street at a place called Cafe Nidal. Shortly afterwards, he introduced himself and said he has a group, and wanted to know if I would be interested in playing with him sometime. I said I would and he pulled me aside, saying "You need to be playing with a better band". I agreed, knowing exactly what he meant, and wanting to further my experience playing with other jazz musicians. He then invited me to see him play with his band, "BJ Papa Express" at the "Tropical- Haight". I went and afterwards, he asked me if I wanted to play with him, I said yes, and in a couple of weeks, I was playing with BJ at the Tropical-Haight. I was upset when BJ looked at me and asked me if I had some money to buy an extension cord across the street at Walgreens. Then he said to me, "Well we got to do something 'cause the gig starts in 15 minutes". We got the extension cord, and later I was embarrassed for being upset. I learned a good lesson in patience and being tolerant from BJ.During that time, he invited me to come over and run through some tunes, since I lived close by, and this "great young singer with lots of potential" was coming over. I had a ball playing with BJ and Kim Nalley and learning new tunes and playing with a singer who could 'scat' like a horn player! BJ was always saying to me, "I have a good feeling about Kim".BJ was often a weekly visitor at a the Schooner jam-session hosted by Vince Wallace from 1992 - about 1997. BJ always had a good attitude and the music was always at the top of his list, and would keep me updated on his musical projects. I gave him lots of rides home and got to know him a bit, that he was a medic in the army, he also liked Soul & R&B music from the 70's, especially Marvin Gaye. He said the world and the music was positive and better things were happening for all people. He was right about a lot of things. We became closer when he asked me if I played sports when I was a kid, I said I played 2nd base (baseball), he said he also played 2nd base, and really liked baseball. I believe he said, in Oakland, he knew Jason Kidd when he was an up-and-coming basketball player. This was before Kidd was drafted into the NBA.Every year he had a birthday party, either at his house or at a friends house, where there was usually a jam-session, lots of food and drink, and a friendly atmosphere. I'll miss his phone calls inviting us to his birthday parties, and his homemade chili, always having 2 kinds: "meat & vegetarian".I'll miss the infamous "BJ neck-rub" and his "squeeze-hug", as he'd sneak up from behind like a cornerback, I'd know it was BJ. Thanks to you BJ I've become more of a human-being. Im gonna miss you BJ.
Scott Chapek
Hi there,

Just want to let all of BJ's friends and fans know that we had a great gig at the West Portal Library Tuesday June 24, 2008. The children's room was jumping, and the children were too. One little boy (5 years old) could not be still for long.
There was BJ on his keyboard, Bishu on bass, Jimmy Ryan on drums and myself (Dorothy Lefkovits) vocalizing. It took me all these years to learn about library gigs. So-o-o glad BJ consented to do this one. The librarians enjoyed it and photographed it even more than the West Portal Ave. patrons.
Thanks for being there, BJ.

Dorothy Lefkovits dlefk@yahoo.com

I met BJ on my birthday May 1st 2000 while he was playing at the Washbag…he quickly became a dear friend, inspiration & loved member of our family. I loved picking him up at Trieste & going to La Rondalla for the best & one of the only remaining 12 family member Mariachi bands still playing!! We always drank shots of Don Julio & BJ matched me shot for shot all night!
I will miss you BJ and always cherish the wisdom, kindness, wit & spirit you generously shared.
My friend BJ PAPA…A true artist, a universal humanitarian and always a consummate gentleman, I will miss you always…
Aloha my friend & may your spirit dance on the wind, blow thru fields of wildflowers & sit in with any band in the cosmos!!!

2002 Brithday

I was inspired by Doug's post about BJ's wonderful cooking to dig out this photo I took in 2002.
Scott Chapek and I picked BJ up in North Beach and drove him to his B-day party at a friend's
house in the Richmond District. Sorry I don't recall the friends' name. Anyway, I love the warm
expression on his face as it fits Doug's description of BJ liking to see his friends satisfied. I'm
going to miss that warm smile, the hugs, the chili, the B-day bash and the music.

Love you BJ.
Roni inor@earthlink.net

Photos From Jazz at Pearls

2 shots of B.J. at Pearl's with other musicians of note: Red Holloway, Akira Tana, Mel Martin, and Miss Nalley.Download them here:http://www.jazzatpearls.com/photos/BJpix.zipThank you for helping to keep B.J. in our memories. I miss him dearly.

Best Regards,Steve Sheraton

B J Papa was a giant. A man among men and most of all the realest of the real. To Mr. B J (as I called him) knew that it was a language with it's own distinct dialects and phrasings. But to get back in the shallow water before I get too deep, just let me say that Mr. B held himself and any musician lucky enough to grace his stage to a high standard of musicianship.Yessir many were the Saturday night when I would race across the city on foot to try and catch the last set of the Cafe Prague session. I play all styles well and consequently I like Mr. B I make a living from my art. I could tell you at least five places a week you can see me but this is about B J. The thing of note here is that all of the cats I have played for or with kept it real for real. From Fillmore Legends like Bobby "Spider" Webb to Bishop Norman Williams there runs a thread of sincere love and passion for the life they lived and the things that they played.Last year we played a gig in Hunter's Point and B.J. told me to bring my guitar as well as my horn because he wanted to get into some different shit. I was surprised to find that B J was one of the funkiest motorscooters I had ever heard. Halfway through the hit he turned an smiled, and said "All styles baby, that's what's up. If a cat aint got that stank then it aint gonna work. Music is music."To make a long story slighty more to the point and even a bit more emphatic, B J Papa was and is a giant. I knew him from afternoons in Cafe International sipping cappucino telling a young brother about ways to make a living in the music scene. He stressed versatility and the need to have your own way of doing things, if you know what I mean. If Mr. B J or Billy Tolliver, or Bishop had time to talk music then if you were down for real then you had time to listen. Once again, B J Papa is a giant.You don't outgrow B J Papa...you become and absorb what B J Papa became by being the personification of Bebop and by living the legend B J didn't live a lie. B J PAPA WAS IS AND WILL FOREVER BE A GIANT.

from Michael Pitre knuckleboogie@yahoo.com
You will always be my Beegie ...

music from the Gathering Cafe

North Beach Composer and Musician Bruce Zweig has generously digitized some of the cassettes from the gathering cafe. Thank you Bruce.


When Bill Jackson was off the Bandstand

BJ as a teenager played sports. Basketball and football were his passions. I remember a football story BJ told me. “I would run thru the offensive player playing against me. Wham! Give him something to think about next time he was in my area.” BJ was a competitor. He also loved playing Basketball as a teenager.

BJ had a brother that I met in the seventies at one of our Birthday Party’s. BJ was a father. He had one son I knew of that was born in the early eighties that grew up in LA.

BJ loved cooking for his friends. Every year I would take him shopping for our Birthday feast. His famous bean dishes (Meat and vegetarian). We would go to Rainbow for the spices, the Mission for the vegetables and Divsadero and Hayes for the meat. BJ didn’t eat pork. He would soak the beans the night before and labor the next day cutting the makings for his finest dish. BJ would end up with two big pots full of the most delicious meal, one vegetarian and one meat. I would wonder how it would all be eaten but every year when BJ served up these dishes, his friends would devour the BJ special blend.

This event was very important to BJ. To see his friends satisfied was one of the joy’s BJ truly enjoyed. Serving came natural. BJ always made people feel their worth was appreciated.

I have know BJ for almost the last half of his life (34 years) and durning that time the healthiest relationship he had was with Marie Helene. BJ’s health and well being improved when he met Marie Helene. That probably gave him many satisfying years of living that he wouldn‘t have experienced if it wasn‘t for Marie Helene.

I love you BJ and you will always be in my memories.
Doug O’Connor / birthday brother

Influential jazz pianist BJ Papa dies in S.F.

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@sfchronicle.com.
This article appeared on page B - 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle

from Henry Hung - Trumpet

I just wanted to continue the long names of musicians who have played with BJ in my time:

Henry Hung-tptDarren Johnston-tptChris Clarke- tptJoel Ryan-tptMike Olmos-tptGeechi Taylor-tpt and drumsDayna Stephens-sax and bassPat Miller-saxEvan Francis-sawGabe Eaton-saxMarcus Stephens-saxHoward Riley-sax and drumsSameer Gupta-drumsDarrell Green- drumsJameo Brown-drumsMyron Cohen-drumsJimmy Ryan-drumsAlcide MarshallDavid Ewell-bassAttila Mevdevsky- bassRob Porter-bassLorenzo Farrell-bassLucas Vassily-bassJean Repetto-bass/guitar

I'm probably forgetting a ton of other musicians-but sheesh, BJ played with everyone, and we're all the better because of it.

My favorite quote from BJ (right before we would start he would say), "It's time to put the pots on.....we're going to do some cookin'!"
I am a San Francisco cop and a huge jazz fan. I walk a foot beat downtown and often walked past Le Joulin Restaurant on Ellis St . I would often stop and talk to BJ and listen to him play with Bishop Norman and the boys. We became fast friends and he asked me if I played and I told him I played the sax. He would encourage me to sit in with him and finally one night I did. BJ was just great as we played “Naima” and “My favorite Things”. BJ was just so supportive and great. I felt I hit a milestone being able to play with such great musical talent and even better men. BJ was the man…gentle and reassuring, a man with a wonderful way about himself. There is no doubt that San Francisco lost a premier jazz man and BJ will be truly and sorely missed. I will think about BJ when I walk my beat downtown. I miss BJ Papa already…may he rest in peace among the angels in the universe…Kevin Martin S.F.P.D. #24…

North Beach Jazz Festival July 2007

North Beach Jazz Festival July 25, 2007 at Cafe Trieste.

Scott Chernis schernis@mac.com

always in my thoughts

I first met BJ, while still a 'kid', of 28, listening to him at the Jazz Cafe in NB. I always loved any chance I had to talk to him and hear him talk.
The conversation that moved me the most thought, was the one we had about Paris. You see, I was having a showing there, but could not go. BJ was filling my head about his time in Paris and related to me the sounds and sights and energy, so much so, that I felt I was transported there. His face lit and hands danced while revealing to me his moments.

During this conversation, I felt alright with my decision to not go, because I realized that SF was my Paris and that BJ was my Parisian. Here was this great musical person expanding my world... bringing the paris mind-frame right here, everywhere he went.

Kim Nalley on BJ Papa

BJ Papa as a pianist was singular, at a silver of hearing to many he sounded dissonant. Oft times people would ask me incredulously, "How as a vocalist could you sing with BJ?!" For me however, his sound exemplified the sound of jazz, his left hand plunking down two or three keys to create a unique almost Monk-like harmony, his right hand picking out the cascades of melodious bebop altered lines that belied his origins as a saxophonist. BJ told me the only reason he switched to piano when he couldn't get his horn out of hock and decided there was always a piano at the gig and reeds were too expensive so he was better off just switching.

After I was turned down for a gig at Pasands lounge because my repertoire was not large enough, I met BJ. I had placed a handwritten ad on Haight-Ashbury Music Center's bulletin board (pre-internet) looking for a jazz pianist to jam tunes from the Real Book with. He answered my ad, and arranged to meet in front of the music store. I awaited him in front of the music store shocked and pleasantly surprised to see an older gentleman that seemed to personify jazz itself introduce himself to me. He often spoke of this moment, saying that he saw me long before I saw him and that he could see in my eyes that hunger and spark. I was eighteen years old. We met every week on Saturday at noon at his apartment on Shotwell Street a broken-down creaky magnificent Victorian of single resident rooms and play tunes all afternoon and at time well into the evening on his piano in the foyer.. BJ would glance at the Real Book, but only to jog his memory to where the bridge went; I was the only one reading out of the Real Book. For him finding a singer that could sight sing was unusual and for me finding a pianist that knew many of these tunes from when they first burst onto the scene was spectacular. The train wrecks that often occur at the endings of tunes never occurred with BJ, he knew how to start tunes and how to end them and switching keys was no problem and the wrong chord changes in the Real Book were not an issue because BJ didn't really use them. At times we were joined by a sax player, such as Tony Gairo, or a bassist would show up such as Scott Chapek, but most times it was BJ and I. Sometimes he would glance at a tune and shake his head and say you are not old enough for that tune. I would protest and insist that I could sing it "Lush Life" and he would relent. I learned these tunes with BJ not through recordings, I would not hear Johnny Hartmann or Sarah or Dinah's version of the songs that I sang for many many years. In this way BJ is instrumental in developing my sound and my voice.

After a few months he started showing me around to the jam sessions, the first one was Bruno Pelletier's at the Wild West in Bernal Heights. "First you are gonna do a ballad because you're a vocalist and that is what you do, that is your special domain. Your going call the tune in C minor and that isn't you're key but you're gonna do it in C minor because that is the key that cats know it in and if that play it well you are going sound better. If you nail that tune they will ask you to sing another, you're a vocalist so you're only gonna get two tune at the most so don't fuck up and you'll get a second tune. then you are gonna do blues and call a key that is good for the horn players like Bb or Eb and do some of that scatting that you do and you will bring the house down and then leave the stage. always leave them wanting more," these are the fundamental lessons of jazz that BJ would whisper into my ear. How to count out a tune. How to pace a set. How to handle musicians that didn't like chick singers. These were the invaluable tools of the trade that BJ handed me.

One day he announced it was time for us to get a gig. He told me that with a vocalist, especially one like me, he could get gigs in venues that he previously could not tap into. One of our first big gigs was Asta's in the Rincon Center, a lush retro 40's supper club named after the dog in a Fred and Ginger movie. We auditioned as was the norm in those day before CD's or websites. The gig paid $350 for piano, bass and piano plus dinner and drinks. My rent was $195 in those days and I was very poor and a student to boot. This was grand sum for both BJ and myself. I am sad to say that twenty years later gigs don't pay more and many pay less. Later when the venue upped the wages in order to add a drummer, BJ paid the drummer more than us, explaining, "A good band is only as good as its drummer and they have a lot of equipment to move so always take care of them FIRST. Pay them more."

We played fundraisers with Moses Dixon, the vibraphonist that busked on Market Street, art collectives in the Western Addition, the newly opened Cafe DuNord and a host of other venues in the pre-dot com landscape of San Francisco. I met and jammed with John Handy, Sony Simmons and Merle Saunders through BJ. And then one day, I'm not sure when, I outgrew BJ musically. I was getting calls from other piano players and better and better gig offers. But BJ didn't mind, he told me point blank, "You are great baby girl, and you are destined to be greater than me. You remind me a Billie, you are even the same height and built, I always knew you would leave the nest some day. They all do and that is way it is supposed to be. Just don't forget about your Papa and come back and sit in with me from time to time." Over the years I would do so and there would be a new crop and younger crop of musicians with him each year.

Fortunately, I was able to try and give back to BJ through Jazz at Pearl's by hiring him at what he thought was the best venue in the Bay Area and trying to help give him the recognition he deserved and providing a listening environment for his music. He is the hidden factory of Jazz in the Bay Area churning out new musicians every year tirelessly, supportively with an encouraging smile for free. There are many of us that graduated from the University of BJ, we never paid tuition but we received the best jazz education that can be had, on the bandstand and at the jam session.

He will never die because he lives in the music.


We are trying to put together a list of everyone that has played with BJ! This is a daunting task because it seemed as if there was a fresh crop every year. Please add as many musicians as you can think of and their instruments.

Bishop Norman Williams alto sax
David Ewell bass
Kim Nalley vocals

black and white photo by Scott Chernis schernis@mac.com

Thank you for you being you, and everything you taught everyone

My top favorite quotes by BJ:

-Keep jazz alive

-Sunday night audiences are always theee best (The Gathering Cafe)

-Get your pots and pans out, cuz we're gonna start cookin'

-You can't have a good band without a great drummer

-Tonight we are joined by a great new talent, I would like to introduce you to...(quietly) what’s your name again?

-We're good-time guys

Miss you forever, even though you'll never be apart from me.

Love and peace my brother,

Roger Weinman