Ain’t Misbehavin’ debuts at Yoshi’s

Fats Waller by Mark Ulriksen

Fats Waller is coming to Fillmore Street.

The rollicking rhythms and exuberant lyrics of the Harlem stride piano master will be celebrated in the musical revue Ain’t Misbehavin’, which makes its San Francisco debut from January 7 to 9 at Yoshi’s on Fillmore. The show — named after one of Waller’s most popular songs — is a tribute to the Harlem Renaissance told through his music by five singers from the Irving Street Repertory in lower Manhattan, plus a rhythm section with piano, bass and drums.

It’s a new kind of show for Yoshi’s.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ will be Yoshi’s first foray into musical theater,” says artistic director Jason Olaine, “although given this Tony Award-winning musical is culled from the great jazz pianist Fats Waller’s songbook, it’s not so much a stretch as an extension of our jazz programming.” Olaine said Waller’s “rowdy, raunchy and humorous songs” reflect his view of “life as a journey meant for pleasure and play.”

Olaine took on the role as the top talent booker of Yoshi’s 400-seat club nearly two years ago vowing to keep the focus on jazz. But he has been forced to diversify the club’s offerings to attract a wider audience, especially as the economic downturn has worn on.

“I think it’s clear that Yoshi’s San Francisco is not strictly a jazz club anymore,” he says. “We don’t want to fly too far afield, yet we do want to broaden our patron base.” But he adds: “We are by no means abandoning our roots.” Olaine points to the New Year appearance of Dianne Reeves — “the pre-eminent jazz vocalist of our time,” he says, whose performance was broadcast worldwide on public radio — and trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who will appear at Yoshi’s January 19-22.

“We’ll always have jazz in our hearts and minds, so we’ll program as much of it as we can,” he says. “But we’ll also be augmenting the calendar with as many diverse, high-quality offerings as makes sense.”

Robin Applewood, aka Dogman Joe, organizes the performances.


By Anthony Torres

Unbeknownst to many locals, Yoshi’s — in addition to the concerts presented nightly in its world-class performance hall — stages a parallel music program in its front lounge area three nights a week. Started by Robin Applewood, aka Dogman Joe, the shows spotlight the musical talent in the San Francisco Bay Area and, in particular, in the Fillmore Jazz District.

The alternate mix includes:
• Late Night Tuesdays, which varies among jazz, funk, soul and hip hop;
• World Music Wednesdays, which offers a wide range of music from around the world, including samba, reggae and afro-beat; and
• Song Writer Sundays, which is just what the name promises: a showcase for up-and-coming song writers to present their work, with the artists rotating in three 20-minute sets.

Dogman started out as a server at Yoshi’s when it opened on Fillmore three years ago and became a manager after about a year on the floor. The musical events began one night after his band — Dogman Joe — played in the front lounge for a private party. The success of that event and the viability of the space as a staging area got Dogman thinking about the possibility of doing more performances in the lounge.

The timing also coincided with the growing pains Yoshi’s was experiencing as it struggled to find its place on the San Francisco music scene and become sustainable. As Yoshi’s management came to realize the need to diversify the venue’s musical programming beyond jazz, it became open to experimenting with other possiblilities at the club.

As a result, Late Night Tuesdays was born — a night Dogman considers the “wild card” of the series. “It spotlights local talent, and it gives me the openness to play with a diverse range of possibilities,” he says. “Typically it’s jazz and funk. But we’ve done everything from comedy to a magic show.”

As for World Music Wednesdays, he says: “It has its own equally large range of music from around the world. I try to keep it eclectic — everything from Turkish music to … whatever.”

And Dogman says that Song Writer Sundays primarily serves as a forum and opportunity for young talent and musicians and functions primarily through referrals. “Generally, I check them out and book three months in advance,” he says. “That way I know they’re good and professional.”

Admission to Yoshi’s Lounge, at 1330 Fillmore Street, ranges from $7 to $10.