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John SantosThis November many of us carved out time to appreciate the people in our lives and give thanks. We Bay Area jazz fans, in particular, had much to be thankful for. Although the SFJAZZ Festival is still winding down, the past months have been filled with some outstanding shows including those by Esperanza Spaulding, Robert Glasper, and McCoy Tyner. Alongside the established jazz artists were legendary Bollywood playback-singer Asha Bohsle, R&B superstar Booker T, and many others. It’s not over yet: Ahmad Jamal is coming to the Herbst Theatre on December 10!

Along with spectacular visiting artists, we in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland must also count our blessings for the homegrown artists who enrich the musical climates of our cities. For me (and many others, I’m sure), one local jazz giant stands out above the rest: John Santos. Even after tasting success and acclaim all around the world, master percussionist Santos continues to live and work in the Bay Area. Over the years, the San Francisco native has employed his Puerto Rican heritage and omnivorous musical appetite to become a great conguero and one of the foremost advocates for Afro-Latin music. Through performances, recordings, master-classes, and lectures, Santos has built a tremendous musical and educational legacy; influencing musicians and training audiences to listen closer. Hearing Santos perform or speak about the traditions that inform his creative process is to experience a powerful combination of energy and elocution. A few months ago, Santos led an insightful, 8-week long lecture series on the History of El Son Afro-Cubano at the Museum of the African Diaspora. During one of his lectures, Santos spoke about the Cuban tres legend Arsenio Rodriguez and played a selection from his largely overlooked masterpiece, “Quindembo” (Epic LP). He prepared us with some historical context and tips for directed listening and… WOW!

But that’s the way it is with John Santos – you go to hear him play some great music, but you typically come away feeling like you also had an educational experience. He is one of those rare artists who lets his audience in on the feeling of musical discovery. On Saturday night, December 3, Santos brings his acclaimed Sextet to the Brava Theater (2781 24th Street, between the Mission and Potrero Hill) where they will headline an Afro-Latin traditional music event. Titled “Encuentro del Canto Popular,” the line-up also includes Grupo Raiz and Los Peludos. Check it out and be thankful that we have great musicians like John Santos appearing around town pretty regularly.

What are you thankful for in our Bay Area jazz community?