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Cindy Blackman Santana Plays Tony Williams at SFJAZZ

Updated: Jun 24

Last year in June I got to see the extremely talented drummer, Cindy Blackman perform with her husband Carlos Santana and others at the SFJazz Center. This is a re-post of that article from the June 17, 2023 show.

Cindy Blackman Santana, her husband Carlos Santana and band played a two set show at SFJAZZ Ctr. This was a midweek performance and the jazz center was packed, and completely sold out. The anticipation was high. I felt a certain buzz in this crowd pre show.

© Cheryl Alterman Photography 2023


Cindy Blackman originates from Ohio and was born into a musical family. Her mother was a classical musician and took young Cindy with her when attending classical concerts. When Cindy was only seven, she saw a drum set at a party and something inside of her spoke to her and she knew the drums were going to be, 'her thing". Her interest was mostly rooted in jazz, and Tony Williams was her main influence. A friend turned me onto Tony Williams a few months ago, so I naturally wanted to cover this show at the SFJAZZ Ctr not only because I've always wanted to see Blackman perform but I knew it would be great show as my friend, Terry, (a musician himself), is a big Williams fan and he assured me it would be good as she was performing Tony Williams music on this night.

© Cheryl Alterman Photography 2023


I first heard of Cindy Blackman because she was the Lenny Kravitz drummer from 1993-2011. I saw her perform with him a few times during that period. She was amazing as a big rock drummer! (Something I had always dreamed about being myself.) Until this night at the SFJAZZ Ctr, I had never heard her play like this. She had a five piece band and Carlos Santana, (her husband), came out to play in the last 20 minutes of the show. The love and admiration between them was beautiful. Vernon Reid from the band, Living Colour was her guitarist during the second set as well as Santana. So the music was excellently executed with these two pros on board. But what I was amazed at was Blackman herself. I have never seen a drummer move so fast. Her arms were continuously moving. Like a streak. I was chatting with another drummer at the show about this and a drummer who was walking by overheard our conversation and stopped and told us a story about when he first saw Cindy Blackman perform a couple decades ago, she was using glow in the dark sticks. He said he felt like he was on an acid trip! Her hands were moving so fast all he could see was light moving over her kit! She is a completely amazing and gifted drummer.

The music....This was my first time at the jazz center. I shoot often at Yoshis and there is jazz playing there a lot but I've never experienced this frantic kind of sound before. It was loud, (which I like), but it was super chaotic, (for me). I didn't hate it, and I loved seeing her, her band and Carlos play but I can't imagine listening to this style of music for enjoyment. My musical taste leans more rock n roll. I just didn't 'get' this style of music. Not because it wasn't superb music, simply because I don't quite understand it (yet). There was part of this show that sounded more like rock music, especially when Carlos entered. I loved that part, but the chaotic sounds I heard through some of the show was perhaps just not my cuppa tea. But I can honestly say it was so excellently executed by all really pro musicians, that this is not a complaint but I admittedly have not quite got my head around this type of sound. So even if I didn't love the style, I really had great appreciation for it all. A great show, in a beautiful place, with a packed audience of very grateful music lovers. The sound at this venue is impeccable and on the ground floor there is a smaller room that also has live music going on throughout the evening. If you have a chance to attend a show at the SFJAZZ Ctr. I'd highly suggest it, as it's a lovely place to see music.

© Cheryl Alterman Photography 2023

1 Comment


Cheryl- great article! Here’s where to start; Miles’ Nefertiti, In a Silent Way, Legend of Jack Johnson, to work your way up to Lifetime and Bitches Brew. One of my very favorite eras. Allen Sudduth

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