BJ Papa: North Beach loses a jazzman, and a friend
B.J. Papa died on Monday. I'm not sure what he died of and I don't know how old he was -- somewhere north of 70, I'm sure. I heard he died in his sleep. I hope so. Let the obit pages take care of the details. He'd been feeling under the weather lately but said he was on the mend. Now he's dead and all I know is that a little piece of old North Beach died with him. And that's a fact.
B.J. was a jazz piano player, a guy who'd been in and around the local scene for 50 years. I'd seen him play at Pearl's (alas, also gone) a few times, and once or twice downtown. But mainly I knew him as a friend from the Caffe Trieste, where he'd been a regular for as long as I can remember, and probably a lot longer than that.
If you have spent any time around the Trieste, you certainly saw him and probably met him, too. The wiry black guy with the white beard, usually sitting at a table up front with a glass of red wine and his CD (for sale) on a little three-legged stand -- that was B.J. Papa. If you didn't get the chance to meet him, it's probably because he was busy flirting with whatever dolly happened to be available to flirt with. B.J. had an eye for the ladies, in the best possible way. He was a guy who simply liked women, and they liked him back.
I heard about his death from a friend at the cafe. She saw B.J. Friday night and noticed how frail he seemed, all of a sudden. His eyes were kind of filmy," she said. I asked him where he had been and he said he'd been hunkering down at his place and hadn't been feeling so hot." She was on her way to dinner but meant to come back and chat with him for a while. He was gone when she returned.