Withdraw? East Bay pianist Professor Bob Athayde has other ideas

Bob Athayde did not receive the retirement memo.

After 45 years in the classroom, including a perpetual run as orchestra director of Stanley Middle School since 1986, he’s well overdue for some rest and relaxation. There’s fish to catch, books to read, and a comfy chair to escape gravity.

But the only session Athayde seems to have scheduled involves a piano bench (you can catch him playing solo at La Finestra Piano Lounge in Moraga and holding the Thursday jam session at Bonehead’s Texas BBQ in Lafayette).

“When I wake up in the morning, I train for a few hours and normally would go to school,” Athayde said of his impending schedule change. “It has been my life’s work. I hope that the energy enters me instead of leaving it. I really want to play more.

His final weeks at Stanley were marked by several celebrations. It continues on May 22, when friends and family hosted an afternoon at St. Perpetua Church in Lafayette. Hosted by the Lafayette Summer Music Jazz Workshop, the innovative program Athayde founded in 1998, Farewell features a jazz combo led by his son, multi-instrumentalist Kyle Athayde.

“My sister Ellie will be there too,” said Kyle, 34, referring to bassist Eliana Athayde, the youngest of Athayde’s four musical siblings. “She leaves the road just in time.”

A gifted improviser and composer who leads the talented big band Kyle Athayde Dance Party, he attended Stanley Middle School’s music program and got to see his dad at work up close. For many middle schoolers, the thought of attending the same campus as a faculty relative, let alone sharing a classroom, would elicit an epic reaction.

Rather than causing angst, Athayde said the experience “was amazing. I loved having him as a teacher. All the ways he provided opportunities and inspired other students, it was all there for me too.

The musical opportunities available at Stanley Middle School are a result of Athyade’s support throughout the community, including
the Stanley PTA, the Lafayette Partners in Education, the Generations in Jazz Foundation, and the Julia Burke Foundation, which also paved the way for one of his major post-Stanley initiatives.

Rather than relax, he is about to mark his post-retirement career by launching a new educational initiative. With support from the Julia Burke Foundation, he will consult with schools that can use his knowledge of curriculum development.

In a meeting with the Julia Burke Foundation, “They asked, ‘What are you going to do after Stanley?’ and I said ‘Help schools and teachers in need’. ‘Who is funding this?’ ‘Nobody.’ “We’ll fund it. Ever since the pandemic happened, all the music programs are in need. I can go anywhere in the United States and work with them.

Athayde has a knack for attracting people who have something to give and a keen eye for identifying stellar musicians who are also effective educators. When he launched the Lafayette Summer Music Jazz Workshop, his first decision was to recruit veteran saxophonist Mary Fettig, a universally esteemed player who gave the program instant gravitas and made it easier to attract other talented teachers.

“If she calls someone, they’ll join,” Athayde said. “She was the first curriculum director. At the beginning, we had some good players who weren’t committed teachers. But little by little, we kept bringing back people who could teach.

Success begat success. Students who have completed the program and become professional musicians return summer after summer to teach and coach Stanley students during the school year. Moraga-raised trombonist/composer Alan Ferber, 47, credits Athayde with changing the course of his life by putting him in touch with trombone teacher Dean Hubbard.

A Grammy-nominated bandleader based in New York, Ferber has taught at the Lafayette workshop since the mid-2000s, observing how “Bob is really an advocate for people who grew up in his orbit to come back to teach. I have also done a few workshops in his Stanley class and he will be blasting music for his students before they start which will keep them motivated.

Athayde feels he is leaving Stanley’s music program in good hands and he will continue at the Lafayette workshop. His retirement without retirement feels like a whole new musical adventure.

Contact Andrew Gilbert at [email protected]


When: 2-6 p.m. May 22

Or: St. Perpetua Church, 3454 Hamlin Road, Lafayette

More information: RSVP to Ginni Reynolds [email protected], www.facebook.com/events/2800669926901353/

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