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Local jazz virtuoso gives back more than music
John Calloway. Photo Courtesy Urban Music Presents

John Calloway, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and educator at San Francisco State University, will receive the local “Jazz Hero” award from the National Jazz Journalists Association, a non-profit corporation promoting the interests of media professionals covering jazz.

This year’s award will be presented in conjunction with the JJA Jazz Awards honoring significant achievements in jazz music and journalism, on June 20, at the African American Cultural Arts Complex.

“Jazz Heroes” are considered activists and advocates of jazz that have had a significant impact on their local community.
Calloway said he can’t point to any particular reason why he’s being honored, but the legendary percussionist and leader of the salsa group Mazacote, Louie Romero, did not share this difficulty.

“He is extremely dedicated, especially to the youth,” Romero said. “It is well deserved for all of his work.”

Calloway founded the Afro-Cuban Ensemble at San Francisco State University and has done theater work with “Teatro Acoiris” at SFSU for years. He is also a clinician at Stanford Jazz Workshop and a faculty member at Jazz Camp West, an eight-day “jazz immersion” program.

He served as a program coordinator for Plaza Cuba, a performing arts organization that offers courses in conjunction with the National School of the Arts in Havana, Cuba, and is a founding member and musical director of the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble of San Francisco—a program providing free training and mentorship to students in Latin and jazz music.

“It’s been a privilege to know John over 20 years, to have played with him and to have had my daughters taught by him in San Francisco public schools,” said Miguel Govea, leader of the salsa band Los Compas. “I particularly admire his work with young musicians.”

Throughout his career, Calloway has performed with internationally known acts such as Dizzy Gillespie, Ismael “Cachao” Lopez, Los Van Van, Arturo Sandoval and Omar Sosa, as well as many Bay Area jazz and Latin jazz musicians such as Mark Levine, Jesus Diaz and Pete Escovedo.

Calloway is currently working on recording projects with his eponymous Latin jazz quintet, the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble and the SFSU Ensemble, but he’s always dedicating time to music education.

“Wherever I’ve been, I’ve been pushing jazz education for kids,” he said. “My passion outside performing, and just as equally important, is teaching music and being an advocate for jazz and youth.”

He currently serves as an arts commissioner for the city of San Francisco and sits on the advisory boards of the San Jose Jazz Society and the Arts Education Master Plan for the San Francisco School District.

The JJA Jazz Award Ceremony is  June 20th, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. There will be a performance by the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble of San Francisco. The event is free and open to all, and light food will be provided.

Story by: Oz Litvac

View Comment (1)
  • Thanks for this great feature on a wonderful local artist, community worker, and public school educator. All the kudos are well-deserved and overdue for someone who’s been doing this work for over a quarter-century!