Photo by Greg DeLory
Tom Mazzolini is the founder and producer of the San Francisco Blues
Festival, the once-longest running blues festival in the United States.
Born in Chicago, Mr. Mazzolini
moved to California in 1963, after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. He attended San Francisco State University, where he received a degree in American History in 1967. During his years at SFSU, Tom's interest in folk music, as well as the burgeoning San Francisco rock scene of the 1960s, eventually led to his interest in blues music.
Upon graduation from college, Tom began collecting records, articles
and memorabilia, which furthered his interest in writing about blues
music. His articles, interviews and reviews of concerts and recordings appeared in numerous publications throughout the 1970s and '80s. He was a contributing editor for Living Blues magazine
for 12 years. He occasionally contributes blues interviews to various publications.
Tom Mazzolini founded the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1973 to educate the
public about the history and evolution of the blues in the
San Francisco-Richmond-Oakland area in the 1940s and '50s. Many of
the performers at the early concerts were the pioneers and originators
of the West Coast blues sound. At that time there were only a handful of
blues festivals across the country.
Also in 1973, Tom started the longest running blues radio show in the Bay Area, which currently airs Saturdays on radio station KPFA-FM in Berkeley. Over the
years, he has interviewed numerous blues musicians, including Percy
Mayfield, Jimmy Reed, Otis Rush, Charlie Musselwhite, Honey Boy Edwards, Charles Brown, Jimmy Dawkins, Lowell Fulson, Kim Wilson, Jimmy McCracklin, William Clarke, Freddie Roulette, James Cotton, Brownie McGhee, Big Joe Duskin, Marcia Ball, Detroit Junior, Luther Tucker, Mighty Joe Young, Katie Webster, and Joe Louis Walker, to name a few. Tom also helped land film roles for Brownie McGhee in "Angel Eyes," starring Robert De Niro and Mickey Rourke, and Harmonica Fats in "The Doors," starring Val Kilmer. He has also written liner notes for numerous albums.
In 1983, Tom received the prestigious W.C. Handy Award from the Blues Foundation in Memphis for his contribution as a blues producer. He also received the Award of Merit from the San Francisco Arts Commission for his many productions for city arts programs. He was also the producer of stage productions for the annual San Francisco Art Festival in the 1970s. Tom also served on the advisory board of the Western Regional Folk Festival, a production of the National Park Service. His productions have been funded by numerous foundations and organizations, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council. He curated San Francisco's first blues photography show at the Art Commission Gallery in the late 1970s, and in 1990 co-curated a major art exhibit entitled "The Blues Show" at the S.F. Museum of Modern Art Rental Gallery. This exhibit included works by William Wiley, Raymond Saunders, Johnny Otis and Mike Henderson, to name a few.
Tom meeting with John Lee Hooker|
and Mayor Willie Brown.
Photo by Will Wallace
In addition to the SFBF, Tom Mazzolini has produced numerous blues
concerts and events throughout the city, including the Battle of the Blues Harmonicas,
which began in 1980. Tom's blues productions have been showcased at the Fillmore
Auditorium, the Palace of Fine Arts, and the Cowell and Victoria Theatres, as
well as city plazas, cultural centers, television and radio. He has also toured
the SFBF in Europe and Japan, with performances at the Roma R&B Festival, Northsea
Jazz Festival, and the Amsterdam Blues Festival. He has appeared in discussions
about the blues on Italian and French radio, as well as the Voice of America,
and National Public Radio. He has also served as a panelist at the Chicago Blues
Festival, as well as the Ravenna, Italy Blues Festival.
In 1996 Tom received the first Patron of the Arts Award at the Bay Area
Music Awards in San Francisco. In 1997 Tom was
the guest for a full hour interview by Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) on the
House of Blues Radio Hour broadcast nationally. That same year San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown honored Tom Mazzolini by proclaiming September 20-21 as Tom Mazzolini Weekend in San Francisco. Tom was the recipient of
the National Blues Foundation's 1998 "Keeping the Blues Alive" award as Blues Promotor of the year. He also hosted a panel "Jazz and the Beat Era," at the 2004 Beat Generation and Beyond conference in Davis, California. In 2006 Tom Mazzolini was a recipient of The Recording Academy Honors Award for his contribution to blues. Also receiving the Award were Dave Brubeck, George Duke and Green Day. The Award was presented to Tom by Taj Mahal, followed by a performance by Keb' Mo.'
He has served on the Board of the Advisory Committee of the Blues Foundation. He also served on the Ft. Mason Advisory Council and is Board Emeritus of the South of Market Cultural Center.
In 2008 Tom produced his 36th and final San Francisco Blues Festival -- an historic achievement!
In May 2009 Tom was honored with a "Keeper of the Blues" award by the Mariposa Brewing Company at the First Annual Mariposa Blues Festival. The award was given "In recognition of Tom Mazzolini for his dedication of the Salvation of the Blues."
In 2010 Tom received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Golden Gate Blues Society for a lifetime of promotion, education and preservation of the blues to the Bay Area and the greater blues community. "No other individual has done more to keep the flame burning in the blues Community." This award was presented at the Redwood City Blues Festival."