Alistair Monroe – Oakland Cannery Collective

IRIE | Alistair Monroe - Oakland Cannery Collective

Alistair Monroe

Oakland Cannery Collective

Photograph: Bradley Knipstein

Meet Alistair Monroe, founder of the North Beach Jazz Festival and the Oakland Cannery Collective. The Jazz Fest was a celebration of jazz history in the heart and soul of San Francisco. Alistair founded the Oakland Cannery Collective to protect and preserve the Oakland artists’ live-work studios and his father’s legacy.

His father, Arthur Monroe, was a rare abstract expressionist painter. He was also a writer, poet, musician, professor, and one of the few African-American chief registrars of a national museum at the Oakland Museum of California.

Alistair’s father first came to San Francisco after the Korean War. He headed west and wanted to study the Western Hemisphere. Arthur was attracted to the Beatnik generation in San Francisco and traveled throughout South America. His friend and mentor was Dr. Radar Hueneslan, who was the largest collector of Beat Generation art and is now housed outside of the United States in Oslo, Kristiansen, Norway.

Arthur Monroe - Oakland Cannery Studio

From San Francisco to Oakland

Arthur was gentrified out of San Francisco in the early 1970s and founded the Oakland Cannery in 1975. He wanted to move far away. In the mid-1970s, he moved to the Oakland Cannery to find a peaceful place to create his art and build other artists’ studios since he was from the East Coast.

For the next 43 years, the widely respected artist, educator, and community activist lived, worked, and painted at Oakland Cannery Row. He also worked as the Oakland Museum of California’s chief registrar for 35 years, taking great care and pride in tending to significant art and history collections. Mr. Monroe was a professor of African American studies at the University of Berkeley and San Jose State College.

North Beach Jazz Festival

In 1994, Alistair started the North Beach Jazz Festival, a nine-day event, before reverting to a five-day festival. Alistair’s vision for the North Beach Jazz Festival was a celebration of the legendary jazz history and the heart and soul of North Beach, San Francisco. The five-day festival ranged from jazz on Grant Street, Latin Jazz, and the taste of New Orleans, culminating in Washington Square Park. Such notables were Poncho Sanchez, Bobby Hutcherson, Rebirth Brass Band from New Orleans, Mingus Amungus, Jeff Brennan, and Josh Jones.

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One of the most prized concerts was our jazz event at Coit Tower, which celebrated Miles Davis’ 75th anniversary. We had notables such as Carlos Santana, Benny Maupin, Benny Reitfeld, and Bill Ortiz. We had members of the Jazz Mafia, Marcus Shelby, David Ellis, Mingus Amungus, and R&B superstars Leta C and Aniba Day.

For many years, the festival was among San Francisco’s pride and joys. It is part of the fabric of my history and also one of the most important aspects of protecting and preserving the Oakland cannery.