November 24, 2007 / 1:36 AM / 12 years ago

Club aims to return San Francisco to jazz glory

NEW YORK (Billboard) - San Francisco may be one of the most vibrant outposts and top markets for jazz, but the city has gone without a club that features national jazz acts for more than two decades.

Catching a touring band in a Bay Area club setting has long meant going to Oakland in the East Bay. There, Yoshi’s had grown from a small restaurant into the marquee 330-seat venue in Jack London Square featuring jazz’s creme de la creme, from Betty Carter to Diana Krall and Oscar Peterson to McCoy Tyner.

On November 28, a top-tier club jazz finally returns to San Francisco when Yoshi’s opens its second state-of-the-art nightspot at the Fillmore Heritage Center in the Fillmore District, as part of a massive city redevelopment plan.

The opening-night lineup at the 417-seat club features drummer Roy Haynes’ Birds of a Feather Super Band with Nicholas Payton, Kenny Garrett, John Patitucci and Dave Kikoski, augmented by guest appearances by Gary Burton and Ravi Coltrane. Following will be multiday stints by Taj Mahal (November 29-December 2) and Chick Corea’s Freedom Band (December 4-9).

Peter Williams, the artistic director of both clubs, said that booking the venues offers an opportunity to be creative. “We can use the two clubs to show the depth of an artist’s music as well as give them a chance to relax over the course of two weeks,” he said.

For example, after Corea’s week in San Francisco, he travels across the Bay to perform a week with his Elektric Band (December 11-16). Likewise, Charlie Hunter’s trio is augmented by the Campbell Brothers in San Francisco (December 12-16), and then is joined by guests Steven Bernstein and Curtis Fowlkes in Oakland (December 18-23).


But will San Francisco — which used to be a hotbed of jazz club action with major spots like Bop City, Both/And, the Blackhawk, the Jazz Workshop, Half Note and Keystone Korner in the ‘50s through the early ‘80s — support a 365-night jazz club?

“I’m hoping that the new Yoshi’s will be a positive force for the city,” said Randall Kline, co-founder/executive director of SFJAZZ, which presents the 25-year-old San Francisco Jazz Festival. “They’re taking on an ambitious project, because running a club these days is challenging. I’m hoping the club will help to generate more interest in jazz — priming the pump.”

Todd Barkan, artistic director of Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, concurred. “High tide floats all boats,” he said. “When we first opened Dizzy’s three years ago, clubs in the city were worried, but we’re not competing. It’s been good for everyone.”

Barkan, who said he hopes that Yoshi’s will jump-start a jazz scene in San Francisco, knows the Bay Area well: He owned and operated Keystone Korner in North Beach from 1972 to 1983, then returned in 1992 to run Yoshi’s in Oakland for a year. Barkan described his creative programming there as “making bricks out of straw,” and was impressed by the funding support for the new Yoshi’s.

Still, he said, San Francisco has become more gentrified and less bohemian than in the old jazz days. “It’s a brave new world for running clubs today,” he said. “But given Yoshi’s commitment, a new day and a new way could well carry its success.”


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