Sheba keeping jazz alive on Fillmore

Sheba owner Netsanet Alemayehu is almost singlehandedly preserving live jazz on Fillmore.

Sheba co-owner Netsanet Alemayehu presents live jazz nightly with no cover charge.


The Queen of Sheba, the Old Testament tells us, was a stunning Ethiopian temptress who dazzled King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. with a caravan of camels laden with gold, jewels and spices to promote lively trade between Israel and Arabia.

A mere 31 centuries later, the co-owner of Sheba Piano Lounge at 1419 Fillmore Street is a regal Ethiopian promoting live jazz in the Fillmore every night of the week with no cover charge.

Netsanet “Net” Alemayehu and her sister and business partner, Israel, aren’t trafficking in gold and jewels. But they jet into SFO from their homeland three times a year loaded down with hundreds of pounds of fragrant Ethiopian spices for the Abyssinian dishes and creative cocktails on their reasonably priced menu.


Coming home to Fillmore

Kim Nalley performing at the Fillmore Jazz Festival.

Kim Nalley performing at the Fillmore Jazz Festival.


Being a musician is kind of like being a foodie. If you grew up poor, you’re really excited just to have food. Then, after you get accustomed to having food and are exposed to good food, you want something better. You eat at great restaurants and become able to distinguish the different components and learn which wines are best paired with each. Your palate is ruined for fast food. You seek better food experiences and make better food at home. But every once in a while you get misty-eyed for mom’s mac and cheese, made with government cheese, because it tastes like home.

In the beginning, I really just wanted a gig singing. I was cleaning houses at the time. I gave the owner of Harry’s Bar on Fillmore, Keith Provo, a demo cassette tape I had made by exchanging house cleaning for studio time. There were only three songs on that demo: an R&B song, an uptempo jazz scat and a ballad, “Moonlight in Vermont.”

Mr. Provo loved the ballad. His son Chris called on a Thursday morning and offered me a weekly gig — if I could put together a band and play that night. I had to stiff the owner of the house I was supposed to clean, but I did get that every-Thursday gig. They paid me $400 a night, and my rent was only $250 a month. I could hire A-list musicians who were much older than me to be my accompanists. I thought Harry’s Bar was the center of the universe and I felt really important at age 18 having a regular gig on Fillmore.

But soon I wanted more. I wanted to play the Fillmore Jazz Festival.


JazzFest a tribute to lost icons


Artistic Director, Fillmore Jazz Festival

In Tribute. That’s the theme of this year’s Fillmore Jazz Festival, coming on July 2 and 3.

Perhaps it would be fitting to hold a tribute festival every year. Invariably, some artist who changed the game or played with unbelievable virtuosity or defied genres or created timeless art passes on to the next stage — literally — leaving behind a legacy for others to build upon, be inspired by, or just enjoy.

This past year, though, we witnessed a jaw-dropping exodus of some of our most visionary and visceral musical artists: Prince, David Bowie, Ernestine Anderson, Maurice White of Earth Wind and Fire, trumpeter Mic Gillette of Tower of Power, Dan Hicks, Natalie Cole, Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, alto sax jazzman Phil Woods, Allen Toussaint. We also said goodbye to R&B and soul icon Otis Clay, jazz singers Mark Murphy and Frank Sinatra Jr., country legend Merle Haggard and, sadly, many more.

The artists performing during the weekend at the 2016 Fillmore Jazz Festival were chosen not because they sound like or exclusively play the music of the icons we lost, but for their own creativity and talent. However, most will be playing and paying some tribute to one or more of these fallen heroes. As you wander up and down the Fillmore, you’re likely to hear songs by artists you may want to learn more about, including the Cuban trumpet marvel Chocolate Armenteros or the adventurist jazz pianist Paul Bley. You’re also certain to hear new arrangements of songs by familiar artists who are no longer with us.

It is with gratitude we salute these music masters who left us with a legacy of music to soothe our souls or make us want to dance or scream or jump and shout.

In Tribute. We give thanks and honor their spirit by offering new music for all to share.


Hello from the other side

WHEN SHE’S NOT at her day job in a medical office near Fillmore, singer-songwriter Candace Roberts can often be found on the stage or in a cabaret.

Her recent music video, “Hello Ed Lee” — an adaptation of Adele’s mega-hit “Hello” — is a plaintive cry to the mayor of San Francisco about what she calls “a tale of two cities, and not the book, but reality.” Over images of street tents housing the homeless, she sings: “Oh this city is filthy rich, yet there’s crisis in the streets.”

Hello Ed Lee” follows Roberts’ 2014 video, “Not My City Anymore,” which strikes a similar theme.

First look: 2016 jazz festival


NOTED SAN FRANCISCO graphic artist John Mattos has been selected to create the poster for the 2016 Fillmore Jazz Festival, coming on July 2 and 3, and this week he revealed his design.

“Like good jazz, it’s unexpected,” said Mattos. “There isn’t a guy with a horn in this, so it’s not replicating the experience of the festival. After all, the real function of the poster is to get attention, and a complete departure like this might get more attention than visually interpreting the aural experience — plus, it’s kinda light-hearted.”

Mattos follows other top poster artists who have offered their take on the Fillmore festival in recent years, including Michael Schwab, Craig Frazier and David Lance Goines.

MORE: John Mattos nails it in London

When the stars came out at the Clay


IN THE SPRING of 1985, the Clay Theatre on Fillmore hosted the premiere of the spaghetti western parody Lust in the Dust. It starred Tab Hunter, Divine and Cesar Romero, who were at the Clay for the screening.

After years of tales about the event, photographic evidence has now surfaced, courtesy of Tab Hunter’s partner, producer Allan Glaser.

Hunter and Glaser came to the Clay last year for a Q&A session about the new film, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. When he walked through the door of the theater, Hunter said: “I was here 30 years ago — what a great place.” During the interview, Hunter spoke about the years he lived in San Francisco’s Richmond District, including a stint working at the Bull Pup enchilada stand at Playland.

Glaser remembered they had photos from the premiere of Lust in the Dust at the Clay, and recently shared the images with the theater staff. They show the crowds lining Fillmore Street as the actors arrived in a black limo. Film lovers were excited to see Tab Hunter and Divine share the screen again; they had starred together four years earlier in John Waters’ film Polyester.

After introducing the film, the actors took seats in the back row and watched the movie with the audience. Beforehand, they planted their handprints and footprints in cement outside the theater in the style of the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

“We have no clue where the prints ended up,” says Michael Blythe, who works at the Clay. “We would love to find them.”

New plan to revamp the Clay


A  NEW PLAN is in the works to remodel the historic Clay Theatre on Fillmore Street by expanding the concession area in the lobby and offering additional food and beverage options, including beer and wine.

The plan abandons earlier efforts to carve the Clay into three smaller screening rooms and build townhouses above the theater and an adjacent building, with a garage excavated underneath.

“We’ve been trying to figure out a way to get the theater revitalized and bring some life back to the boulevard,” said architect Charles Kahn, who is collaborating with the owner of the building, Blagobind Jaiswal. Jaiswal also owns the building next door housing the Alice + Olivia boutique and the Cielo clothing boutique a few doors south.

“This is all about saving the theater,” Kahn said. “It’s a much more modest project than where we started.”

A public hearing on the plans will be held on Monday, January 4, at 7 p.m. in Calvin Hall of the Calvary Presbyterian Church at 2515 Fillmore.

Kahn said the new plan calls for relocating the restrooms now in the lobby to the back of the theater behind the screen. That would free up space for an expanded food and beverage operation. Seating would also be upgraded and accessibility improved.

Kahn said no changes are planned to the facade of the theater.

UPDATE: The public hearing on January 4 left local supporters of the Clay Theatre optimistic about the future of the 110-year-old movie house. The owner of the building, Blagobind Jaiswall, and his architect, Charles Kahn, said they were “absolutely committed” to renovating and continuing the theater.

Film fans at the meeting questioned plans to move the restrooms inside the theater behind the screen, but no one objected to other renovations, including an expanded concession area serving beer and wine.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to increase the hours the building is open,” Kahn said after the hearing. “I collected some very valuable information.”

Staffers from the Clay attended the meeting and offered a number of suggestions. Afterward, the head of Landmark Theatres, which operates the Clay, said he was encouraged by his talks with the owner and architect.

“So far, so good,” said Landmark CEO Ted Mundorff. “I think it’s the beginning of a plan. If we can get a better theater out of this, then it’s a great plan.”

The question remains how to pay for it.

“That’s gonna be the rub,” said Mundorff. “There’s not this big cash cow that walks in the door when you sell beer and wine.”

Kahn said he will bring detailed plans for remodeling the Clay and expanding its offerings before the city Planning Commission in the coming months.

Landmark announced in August 2010 it would close the Clay, but a last-minute deal kept the theater in operation.

EARLIER: “How the Clay dodged a bullet

Sundance sells Kabuki cinemas

Sundance revamped the Kabuki complex when it took over in 2007.

Sundance revamped the Kabuki complex when it took over in 2007.

ACTOR-DIRECTOR-PRODUCER Robert Redford and his investors have sold their five Sundance movie houses — including the eight-screen Kabuki cinemas at Fillmore and Post.

The new owner, Carmike Cinemas, based in Columbus, Ga., is the fourth-largest theater chain in the U.S., now with 274 theaters in 41 states and ambitions to expand further. A Carmike official said no immediate changes are planned in the operation of the Kabuki cinemas.

Redford at the Kabuki in 2012.

Robert Redford at the Kabuki in 2012.

Sundance revamped the Kabuki complex when it took over in 2007, upgrading the decor, seating and sound and adding expanded food and beverage options.

“We have no intention of eliminating the popular beer, wine, cocktail and food programs offered at Sundance Kabuki,” said Brian Dobson, director of restaurant operations for Carmike. “The current arrangement works.”

Dobson said his company will continue Sundance’s reserved seating program, which allows tickets to be purchased online in advance, and will continue to show no ads before screenings. Sundance’s “custom content” messages projected before films begin will remain, said Dobson.

Ticket prices won’t change, Dobson said, but there may be more “alternative programming” — ballet, theater, opera and small indie films of the type that first put Redford’s Sundance Film Festival on the cinematic map.

Carmike bought all five Sundance theaters — the others are in West Hollywood, Seattle, Houston and Madison, Wisconsin — for $36 million in cash. Carmike will continue to operate the five theaters under the Sundance name, but may not expand the Sundance brand, according to statements both firms issued announcing the deal.

Neither local Sundance spokesperson Nancy Gribler nor Kabuki general manager Michael Spring responded to repeated requests for information about any effects of the sale on the Kabuki’s operations. Spring was said to be on a long conference call with his new bosses in Georgia.

UPDATE: Kabuki theaters sold again

A Mime Troupe arrest in Lafayette Park

Mime Troupe Meadow in the renovated Lafayette Park honors the historic occasion.

Mime Troupe Meadow in the renovated Lafayette Park honors the historic occasion.

San Francisco Chronicle

Fifty years ago this weekend, police prevented the San Francisco Mime Troupe from performing a play in Lafayette Park, arresting the company’s founder as 1,000 people jeered. The dramatic encounter expanded the frontiers of artistic freedom in San Francisco and indirectly launched the career of legendary rock promoter Bill Graham.

Read more »

KALW: “For the Mime Troupe, the show goes on

City owed $18 million for Fillmore Heritage Center

The showplace club and restaurant that once housed Yoshi's now sits empty.

The showplace club and restaurant that once housed Yoshi’s now sits empty.

IT HAS NOW cost more than $18 million in city funds to build the Fillmore Heritage Center and keep it afloat.

There is no new tenant in sight for the huge empty spaces formerly occupied by Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant. The garage is losing $10,000 a month now that the building has few visitors. The Lush Life gallery also sits empty and has no potential new tenants. The restaurant 1300 on Fillmore continues to operate, but its future is in doubt.

These are some of the details that have finally begun to emerge about exactly what is happening with the project opened in 2007 to revitalize the stretch of Fillmore Street south of Geary once known as the Harlem of the West. Public hearings on July 13 and July 27 brought out scores of restive neighbors, and a thick “informational memorandum” laid out the sad financial facts, complete with spreadsheets, term sheets, notices of default and lease terminations attached.