A new era begins at Yoshi’s

Photograph of opening night at Yoshi's on November 27, 2007, by Mina Pahlevan

Photograph of opening night at Yoshi’s on November 27, 2007, by Mina Pahlevan

By Chris Barnett

AFTER A DIZZYING seven year roller-coaster ride — from its opening as the hot new jazz club on the West Coast to a plunge into bankruptcy — Yoshi’s on Fillmore was taken over by new owners July 1 and is tuning up for its next gig.

Yoshi’s San Francisco, launched at the end of 2007 as the offspring of 42-year-old Yoshi’s in Oakland, will no longer be a jazz club, despite its heritage and its locale in what was once the fabled Harlem of the West. In fact, it hasn’t been a jazz club for several years, and the music promises to get still more eclectic under new management.

The big question is what the new Yoshi’s is going to look like, sound like and taste like. It’s hard to say just yet because the take-over management team, headed by longtime minority owner and successful urban developer Michael E. Johnson — who developed the Fillmore Heritage Center housing Yoshi’s, 1300 on Fillmore and 80 condominiums above — took control suddenly last month without a fully developed business plan. Even as the curtain rises this month, the new Yoshi’s, including its new name, is a work in progress.

This much is known: The business known as Yoshi’s San Francisco — which includes the 420-seat club and the 370-seat Japanese restaurant and lounge — was sold by an investment consortium headed by Yoshie Akiba and Kaz Kajimura to the Fillmore Live Entertainment Group, where Johnson is the managing director. No one including Johnson is saying what Fillmore Live paid, if anything. The club complex, separate from the building Johnson developed and controls, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2012. The sale does not affect the mothership Yoshi’s in Jack London Square.


How the Yoshi’s deal went down

Yoshi's will still have jazz, but it won't be a jazz club, its artistic director says.

Yoshi’s will still have jazz, but it won’t be a jazz club, its artistic director says.

By Chris Barnett

YOSHI’S ON FILLMORE is already booked this summer with acts lined up before the ownership changed on July 1.

But it almost went dark. Just a few weeks ago, the mood at Yoshi’s was deathly. Backstage, insiders could practically hear a New Orleans funeral band playing Just a Closer Walk With Thee, the traditional dirge of the deceased.

But on the way to the cemetery, a miracle happened. Almost every investor with a financial stake in Yoshi’s — owners, borrowers, lenders, private citizens, city and state governmental agencies — took a haircut, and in some cases a real scalping, so the club could emerge from bankruptcy and survive. Investors who despised each other set aside their differences and, in some instances, ponied up more cash or personal commitments to rescue a dream that had turned into a financial nightmare.


The year of women in jazz


Artistic Director, Fillmore Jazz Festival

While 1992 might have been tagged the “Year of the Woman” in politics, this year’s Fillmore Jazz Festival might well be dubbed the same, as we raise our flags up and down the street to salute talented “Women in Jazz and Beyond.”

Here in the Bay Area — and this weekend on Fillmore — we are blessed to have a cornucopia of talented female artists who not only excel at their craft, but run the gamut of styles, perform on a variety of instruments and excite and energize audiences. Whether it’s jazz or blues, flamenco or folk, world music or soul, the women performing this weekend have style and substance in spades.

Some of the performers in 2014 return to the festival and are household names up and down the peninsula — including jazz and blues singers Faye Carol, Kim Nalley, Lavay Smith and flamenco pioneer Yaelisa and her group Caminos Flamencos, who tore the non-existent roof off of the festival in 2012. Other artists are household names but are here for the first time or returning after a long sabbatical — including singers Kitty Margolis, Pamela Rose, Carla Helmbrecht, Shayna Steele, Anna Kristina and Ila Cantor.

We are lucky to have bands or groups with us that feature or are led by women, including the all-woman world music outfit Azúcar Con Aché, the dynamic, multi-cultural 15-member strong Oakland Jazz Choir, the most in-demand blues bassist on the planet, Bay Area resident Ruth Davies and her band Blues Thing, vocalist Ariel Friedman’s Waves of Silver and the California Jazz Conservatory’s Arabelle Schoenberg and Nora Stanley Group.

With such a diverse and inspiring lineup, the best tip might be to arrive early and stay late — and wear comfortable shoes. These streets were made for walking, and I know that’s just what I’ll do. There’s so much music to catch, so many artists to support, so many arts and crafts and goods for sale that the weekend will be gone before you know it.


‘Music transcends language’



When artistic director Jason Olaine began planning this year’s lineup for the Fillmore Jazz Festival, he found himself booking so many women performers he had a theme.

“There are so many great women jazz artists in the Bay Area,” he says, “and not just vocalists.”

Olaine’s day job as director of programming and touring for Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York keeps him on the front lines of jazz around the world. But Olaine says he is always happy to come back to the Bay Area.

“The Bay Area is my home — I am a third-generation Palo Altan,” he says. “My first jobs in the jazz world were at Yoshi’s in Oakland and the Gavin Report back in the early ’90s. I also interned at KJAZ and Jazz in the City, now SF Jazz. When Jazz at Lincoln Center approached me in 2011, there were a few things I asked for. One was whether I could continue as artistic director of the Fillmore Jazz Festival.”


Making a joyful noise — and maybe a healthier life

Members of the Community of Voices choir sing at the Western Addition Senior Center.

Members of the Community of Voices choir sing at the Western Addition Senior Center.

By Judy Goddess

MANY AGREE THAT choir music can be a joyful noise. And choir members often find singing fulfilling and fun. But a new study recently launched locally aims to uncover whether singing in a choir can actually help older adults have longer and healthier lives.

As part of the study, the 15-member Community of Voices choir gave a lively gospel performance on March 20 at the Western Addition Senior Center at Fillmore and Turk led by Maestro Curtis and his wife, Nola Curtis. Maestro Curtis, a renowned San Francisco Bay Area music legend, producer and author, has a background in classical music as well as jazz, gospel, R&B, funk, folk and country. Haruwn Wesley on upright bass and Larry Douglas on trumpet accompanied the choir at the concert.

“I know singing in the choir makes people happier,” says the center’s director, Robin Bill. “People who were quiet when they first came to our center in September are now stepping up. You can see the improvement in the choir from when they first met to now.” The Western Addition choir previously performed at the City Hall celebration of Kwanzaa and at the Parc 55 hotel, and another performance is planned for the fall.


Just another day at the Fillmore

FLASHBACK | Honey Green

It was October 1966, just a few days before my birthday. Bill Graham had booked an amazing show. Headlining was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, with Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Mark Naftalin, Elvin Bishop and a host of many others. The second band was the Jefferson Airplane — Marty, Jorma, Jack, Spencer and Signe Anderson.

Fillmore posterThere were two shows and, if memory serves me right, I believe this first one was Signe’s last show, because Grace Slick did the second show. The third act on the bill was Big Mama Mae Thornton. What a show this was going to be.

The day was hectic with musicians running here, running there, sound checks, lighting checks for the light booths and Bill checking every, I mean every thing. The excitement was palpable and continued all afternoon. When, oh no, the piano for Big Mama did not show up. Bill was on the phone calling all over town and, to his chagrin, could not find a piano to rent. Now here’s the good part: I had a piano at home.

Bill sent a crew over to my house to get the piano and even had a piano tuner come in. Pianos need to be tuned. Well, this was so exciting. There was my piano on the stage in all its shining glory. Paul Butterfield’s band was outstanding, as was the Airplane.

Then Big Mama came on stage, sat down at the piano and played “Heartbreak Hotel” such as it was never played before or since. It brought the house down. Then she wanted accompaniment on the piano, and Mark Naftalin sat down and tinkled those keys.

I never looked at that piano the same way again.

A footnote: After the show was over, Bill had my piano beautifully restained, had it delivered to my house and sent the piano tuner along with it.

Honey Green was promoter Bill Graham’s secretary back in the day.

Songbird in the Swedenborgian choir


BOOKS | Barbara Kate Repa

The versatile and iconic singer Linda Ronstadt has mostly kept a low profile since moving back to San Francisco from her native Arizona about eight years ago.

But all that changed recently with a huge media blitz touting her new book, Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir. Her appearances these days are made more poignant by the recent revelation that Parkinson’s disease has stilled Ronstadt’s searing singing voice.

She now maneuvers mostly unrecognized throughout the neighborhood: buying her “sensible shoes” at Crosswalk on Fillmore, dining with friends at A-16 or taking walks through the Presidio, sometimes aided by hand canes.

That easy anonymity wasn’t possible back in the day when she ruled the music world with her belting voice and siren-shy demeanor, innocent dark eyes and pouty lips, all hoop earrings and prairie skirts. “That was my ’70s persona,” she told a local crowd recently at a City Arts & Lectures interview. “We were all hippies then.”

Ronstadt lived in Los Angeles at the time, but claims she found the place “mentally exhausting.” So in 1987, she bought the four-level house at 2518 Jackson, overlooking Alta Plaza Park, with its seven bedrooms, music room and sweeping views of the bay. She promptly painted it a controversial shade of lavender and outfitted it with the Victorian decor that’s close to her heart.

And she got to know some of the neighbors.

“She wandered into the Swedenborgian church one day and I asked her if she wanted to join the choir,” recalls Garrett Collins, who then served as the musical director of the historic church at the corner of Lyon and Washington. He asked Ronstadt to audition first, just as he did any other choir member.

“I found out she did not read music, so I offered to give her private lessons on how to do it,” says Collins, who says their time together helped forge a friendship between them.

“She was musically very disciplined — not pompous, not at all what you’d think of as a big star,” he says, fondly recalling the singer’s big easy laugh and the duet of “White Christmas” they performed together for a fundraiser at the Waldorf School. “She was focusing on the two children she had adopted during those years, Mary Clementine and Carlos, and jealously guarding their privacy.”

Ronstadt sold the purple Victorian in 1997 — it was listed for $5.85 million — and moved back to Tucson to be closer to family. But she came back to San Francisco again in 2005, craving its open-minded culture.

She says she took pains to make sure Simple Dreams was not a “kiss and tell” book. It isn’t. She makes scant mention of her past romantic involvements — including several years with Gov. Jerry Brown, who also lived in the neighborhood for a time, when she became known as the First Lady of California. She concentrates instead on the Southern California music scene during the 1960s and ’70s, during which she was dubbed the Queen of Rock, a title she says now makes her cringe.

She’ll likely keep San Francisco her primary residence rather than return to Tucson, where she still maintains another home. “There’s too much cactus there,” she says. “It can make your tires flat.”

Meet the JazzFest artistic director

Jason Olaine programs Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Fillmore Jazz Festival.

Jason Olaine programs Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Fillmore Jazz Festival.


Last year you left Yoshi’s on Fillmore to join Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. How’s the new gig going?

The job is great — challenging and rewarding. Maybe that’s why it’s great. We just wrapped our 25th anniversary season and it was a home run, so there is some satisfaction, and relief.

What’s your role?

I’m the director of programming and touring at Jazz at Lincoln Center, so I’m responsible for all the programming we generate. Our concert season runs from September through June in our two main halls — the 450-seat Allen Room and the 1,100-seat Rose Theatre, located in the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Columbus Circle in midtown Manhattan.

We also have an amazing jazz club — Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola — that is open seven nights a week, two shows a night, much like Yoshi’s, except we only have 125 seats. We have a similar club in the Middle East — in Doha, Qatar — that opened in October of 2012 and we will be opening a club in Shanghai in late 2016 or early 2017.

Our Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis tours approximately 12 weeks a year — they’re in Europe right now. We have tours slated from now through 2016, including trips to South America, Asia, Australia, the U.K. and here at home, plus we program a series in Mexico City. We’re putting a lot of musicians to work and spreading jazz to the masses.

What does it tell you about the state of jazz?

There are more people “consuming” jazz — buying tickets, attending free festivals like this one, downloading, streaming, sharing, buying, viewing on demand — than at any other time in history. Has the economy fully recovered here and abroad? Not by a long shot. So we feel that given how strong the jazz economy is now, the future looks even brighter. At Lincoln Center, we sold more tickets this year than any year before and had more than 100,000 people watching our live streams. And sales for next season are tracking 15 percent ahead of this year.


JazzFest returns July 6 and 7


IT’S THAT TIME of year again — Fourth of July weekend — and the Fillmore Jazz Festival is back and will take over the street for the 29th year in a row.

With more than 100,000 people expected for the two-day street party, the Fillmore Jazz Festival means different things to different people. For artists, it’s an opportunity to present new material or play old favorites for hundreds or thousands of people. For many residents and festival goers, it’s a weekend to look forward to every year — a time to celebrate the best of the neighborhood’s past and present. There’s a positive, joyous vibe up and down Fillmore Street as live music flows from block to block.

This year’s lineup on the California and Sutter stages covers a lot of ground, stylistically and geographically. While both of this year’s Artists-in-Residence hail from the Bay Area, the rest of the lineup stretches from Vegas to Brooklyn to Israel and Ghana.

The Jazz Artist-in-Residence, Kim Nalley, is an acclaimed jazz and blues vocalist and a true San Francisco treasure who got her start on Fillmore and has become a fixture at the festival. She wows the crowds and stops traffic — sometimes literally — with her dynamic stage shows. An inspiring and dedicated educator as well, Nalley has a gift for storytelling — and swinging hard. She recently sold out all four shows at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York and returns at the end of July for a week of shows at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, presenting her tribute to Billie Holliday.

World music and jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum — this year’s World Music Artist-in-Residence, grew up in Berkeley, although he has been living in Brooklyn for a couple of decades. Apfelbaum makes his Fillmore Jazz Festival debut as a leader this year. But he’s been leading bands, including his groundbreaking, genre-defying Hieroglyphics Ensemble, since he was a highschooler back in the late ’70s. His music has always been fascinating — was it jazz, world music, groove or funk? For this world-class, Grammy-nominated composer and improviser, no label is required — or maybe even possible.

Both Artists-in-Residence perform both days, and present two completely different shows — a real treat if you’re a fan or just curious why they’re in the spotlight. They both deserve the attention — as do the other artists invited to perform. If music is an important part of your life and you like discovering new music — be it jazz or world or blues and beyond — then this year’s Fillmore Jazz Festival is for you.

Complete schedule of entertainment

A portal to another time

Photograph of the Piano Care Co. at 2011 Divisadero by Daniel Bahmani

By Marjorie Leet Ford

THE SHOP’S carved wooden front door — both rough-hewn and fancy — quietly announces a portal to another time, when the ancient art of piano building was still going strong, and the world was as full of pianos as it now is of cars. The piano was the heart of the family; there were so many that some cities passed laws against playing a piano near an open window. Then came the radio and the gramophone, providing instant music.

But the romance lingers. Having the word “piano” in a title still wins hearts. Witness Thad Carhart’s high-selling novel The Piano Shop on the Left Bank; Jane Campion’s popular film The Piano and The Pianist, which became an Oscar winner for its director, Roman Polanski.

Romance may be part of the pleasure in opening the front door and stepping into the Piano Care Co. at 2011 Divisadero Street, just a few steps north of California.