Icon of the ‘Mo

Frank Jackson played and sang in the Fillmore for seven decades.

ONE OF THE enduring musical careers of Fillmore’s jazz era ended on February 5 when pianist and vocalist Frank Jackson died at age 92 of complications of the flu.

He was playing almost until the very end. His last gig was on January 25 at Pier 23, with Al Obidinski on bass and Vince Lateano on drums. Jackson started sneezing on the way home, and within a few days had a cold that kept getting worse. On February 4, he was admitted to the V.A. Hospital in Palo Alto and diagnosed with the flu. He died the next day.

“He was so full of life, wonderful memories and compassion for all,” said his wife and No. 1 fan Kathy Jackson in announcing his death. “His talent and repertoire were unparalleled.”

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‘Don’t you think I owe her?’

Photograph of Nancy and David Conte at the Carlisle by Frank Wing

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

“MOM!” the pianist says with some concern as he launches into their favorite song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and a photographer begins to click away. “You can’t cry on camera.”

Though not usually with a photographer in tow, composer David Conte often drops by the Carlisle, the retirement community at 1450 Post, to visit his mother, Carlisle resident Nancy Conte. He often plays her favorite classics or show tunes before or after he goes to work at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he is a professor of composition and head of the composition department. Other Carlisle residents are treated to regular impromptu mini-concerts.

Performing and composing are nothing new for David Conte. At 7, he and a friend wrote songs and gave concerts in their suburban Cleveland neighborhood. Music education in the public schools was at its zenith, and his father played the trumpet. By 8, he had started piano lessons, and by the time he reached 13, he knew music would be his life. At 19, he moved to Paris for three years, where he became one of the last pupils of world-renowned teacher Nadia Boulanger.

Conte, the eldest of his mother’s three children, has composed more than 100 published works, including six operas and works for orchestra, chamber groups and chorus. His work has drawn critical praise, and aspiring composers arrive at the conservatory to study with him.

But to Nancy Conte — herself a former choral conductor and an encyclopedia of musical texts and tunes — he’s still the son she started driving to piano lessons back in Ohio when he was 8 years old. “It was a lot of schlepping around for a lot of years,” she says. Her son smiles as he launches into a Schubert sonata and says: “Don’t you think I owe her?”

On a Theme of Helgi

Photograph of S.F. Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson by Erik Tomasson

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Just before Helgi Tomasson moved to San Francisco — and to the neighborhood — to become artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet, he wound up a stellar first act as an acclaimed principal dancer with George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.

In his 33 years here, Tomasson has turned a regional troupe into one of the most admired ballet companies in the world. The company’s 85th season showcases Tomasson’s skill in planning wonderfully varied evenings of story ballets and three-act programs of modern and neoclassical choreography — such as his own “On a Theme of Paganini,” beginning February 15.

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The long wait at the Fillmore Heritage Center

Opening night in November 2017 of the Fillmore Heritage Center, now empty for three years.

Opening night in November 2007 at the Fillmore Heritage Center, now empty for three years.

UPDATE: The wait will go on. City Hall has punted, announcing on November 3 that no decision will be made yet on what to do with the Fillmore Heritage Center. All five bids for the complex were rejected, and the process will start all over again.

JUST IN TIME, 1300 TAKES A TIME OUT

THEIR DECISION could have been made anytime since July 1, 2014, when Yoshi’s pulled out next door. But the owners of 1300 on Fillmore restaurant hung on, committed to the resurgence they helped spark.

They even doubled down and opened a barbecue joint across the street.

Finally on October 19 came the word: 1300 would close. Final call was on October 25, a closing party that former mayor Willie Brown called “a classic — more like the dance palace of the Fillmore of yesteryear.”

Owners Monetta White and David Lawrence insisted they are just taking a break — a “hiatus,” White called it — from trying to keep an upscale restaurant open on a lonely corner. Business has gotten slower and slower during the three years since Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant called it quits, and city leaders have dragged out a decision about what to do with the space.

“Something had to be done,” White said. “We hope to revamp, revise and relaunch in 2018.”

David Lawrence and Monetta White greet diners at 1300 on Fillmore soon after it opened.

David Lawrence and Monetta White greet diners at 1300 on Fillmore soon after it opened.

In the meantime, Black Bark BBQ will continue and they will rent out 1300 and its Fillmore heritage lounge for pop-ups and private events.

“It’s a short-term decision for a long-term stay — hopefully,” White said.

Like nearly everyone else associated with the Fillmore Heritage Center — which houses 1300, the massive Yoshi’s restaurant and showroom, an art gallery, a screening room and a public parking garage — White expressed frustration with the city’s delay in finding a buyer for the complex. The project defaulted to the city when the developer went bust.

“Why is it taking them so long to deal with this building?” lamented White. “Who is in charge over there? They told me to hold for one year… it’s been three!”

Willie Brown spoke for many fans of 1300: “Thanks for the memories. Bring it back soon.”

Kabuki, mon amour

The theater in its heyday as the Sundance Kabuki.

The theater in its heyday as the Sundance Kabuki, when it was Robert Redford’s place.

FILM | DAVID THOMSON

People call it “the Kabuki” still, as if clutching at something and hoping it will stay there. It is, or has been, our neighborhood movie theater, with a front onto Post Street, a parking garage, an alleged restaurant — and a certain dejected character.

I’m being as generous as possible because I want it to remain. But I have my doubts now, and I understand if people still think of it as Sundance, Robert Redford’s place, Carmike, AMC or the longtime home of the film festival.

Over the years, there were rumors: Were the Coen Brothers really thinking of taking it over? No, those guys were too shrewd for that. Our Kabuki feels like a place people are waiting to unload.

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Tombonistically speaking, in the key of Bernstein

Photograph of Nick Platoff by Terrance McCarthy

Photograph of Nick Platoff by Terrence McCarthy

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Nick Platoff moved here a year ago to join the San Francisco Symphony’s acclaimed brass section, in which he is associate principal trombonist. Only 25, he helps kick off the fall arts season this month, performing in the symphony’s opening night gala on September 14, followed from September 22 to 24 by “Celebrating Bernstein,” four pieces by Leonard Bernstein to honor the centennial of the master conductor and composer’s birth.

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‘Do you want to come to the show?’

Mark Fantino and Richard Butler at Chouquet’s on Fillmore.

Mark Fantino and Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs at Chouquet’s.

FIRST PERSON | MARK FANTINO

It’s Tuesday, and I’m halfway through working a typical lunch at Chouquet’s, at Fillmore and Washington, when in he walks. Immediately I ask: “Are you Richard Butler?”

Turns out, I know him well. He’s the lead vocalist of The Psychedelic Furs, one of my favorite rock bands. A benefit of being a record collector who scrutinizes every detail and reads all the liner notes and lyrics on all the records that shaped my life is that I have names memorized, as if they are all old friends who’ve seen me through thick and thin. I’m remembering the adage that we should know the names of the people who changed the world, or at least made it a better place.

So there is something profound about welcoming him by name instead of: “Hey, aren’t you that guy from The Psychedelic Furs?”

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Nurturing the evolution of jazz in S.F.

RandallKline

CULTURE BEAT | PAM FEINSILBER

It’s fitting that Randall Kline, founder and executive artistic director of SFJazz — the largest jazz-presenting organization on the West Coast — lives near Fillmore Street. In the 1940s and ’50s, when the neighborhood was teeming with clubs, bars and after-hours joints, it was revered by jazz musicians and fans. Now Kline, who has lived locally with his wife, Teresa Panteleo, for almost 20 years, presides over the acclaimed SFJazz Center he willed into being in the cultural mecca near City Hall.

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Jazzfest celebrates the Summer of Love

FJF2017

By JASON OLAINE

Summer of Love Revisited. That’s the theme of this year’s Fillmore Jazz Festival on July 1 and 2, in honor of the 50th anniversary of that impactful, inspired time in 1967 — its epicenter in San Francisco, with the Fillmore being ground zero.

Seminal albums were released by Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and many more, while a number of important bands were being formed — including Santana, Fleetwood Mac, Sly and the Family Stone, NRBQ, Chicago and Credence Clearwater Revival.

The Human Be-In took place here with spoken word by Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary and music by Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead.

Perhaps this summer is the time to collectively take a page from our past — to embrace this unifying message of compassion and community, as important today as it was a half-century ago.  Just as the artists of that generation distilled a consciousness or portrayed optimism in the face of serious cultural and worldwide troubles, artists of today give us something to think about, to feel, so we can go back to our daily lives inspired to be a part of the ongoing struggle to live and love.

This year’s artists will honor the spirit of  ’67 by performing songs from that period, showing how jazz can embrace other musical genres, with uplifting results.

ENTERTAINMENT SCHEDULE

Jason Olaine is artistic director of the Fillmore Jazz Festival and director of programming for Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.

A view of the bay helped lure the maestro

Photograph of San Francisco opera music director Nicola Luisotti by Cory Weaver

Photograph of San Francisco Opera music director Nicola Luisotti by Cory Weaver

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Maestro — and neighborhood resident — Nicola Luisotti opens the San Francisco Opera’s summer season this month, conducting eight performances of Verdi’s heart-wrenching Rigoletto.

Italian to his core, Luisotti, who’s been music director of the opera company since 2009, is particularly renowned for conducting the works of his most famous musical countrymen. He will open the fall season conducting Puccini’s beloved Turandot in early September and Verdi’s romantic La Traviata later that month.

But if not for the charms of the neighborhood, he might not be in San Francisco at all.

You’ve worked in opera companies all over the world. What brought you to San Francisco?

I will never forget that important moment of my artistic life. I was in L.A. in 2005 conducting Pagliacci, by Leoncavallo. I’d been invited to conduct La Forza del Destino, by Giuseppe Verdi, in San Francisco, and I had to start the rehearsals. But I was so tired, I was close to canceling my engagement.

I decided to come here for two days; my wife, Rita, remained in L.A. When I entered the apartment S.F. Opera had arranged for me in Pacific Heights, the windows provided a spectacular view of the bay and Alcatraz — a view I couldn’t have had in any other neighborhood. I immediately called Rita and said: “You will love this city!”

And it was one of the best musical experiences in my life. The S.F. Opera orchestra and chorus were just amazing. Four years later, when I was asked to become music director, I was in paradise.

And back in Pacific Heights.

I fell in love with what the neighborhood first gave me — that view. Our apartment building in Pacific Heights was built in 1932, and I thought it was truly fate, since that was the year the Opera House opened. And Pacific Heights is so quiet, beautiful and elegant — just a perfect place for a musician to be inspired.

You began your career at age 10, playing the organ in your village church in Tuscany, learning to read music by watching the priest — and a year later you were conducting the church chorus. How did you become an opera conductor?

The first time I attended an opera, it was Madama Butterfly, when I was 12. But the first time I fell in love with an opera was La Bohème, when I was 21. When I saw it, I understood that one day, I could become an opera conductor. For sure, a bit of talent, a lot of work and some luck can contribute to achievement. Perhaps being Italian is why many theaters ask me to conduct Italian works, and so it can be said that I bring my Italian traditions to the music.

What exactly does an opera conductor do?

My colleagues in the orchestra pit and on stage each knows his or her own role intimately. But the conductor brings his knowledge of the entire opera, acting almost like a medium, channeling the composer through the score. When everything works, we have magic.

What do you enjoy on your time off?

Rita and I love to cook and we do not eat out very often, although we have been many times, either on our own or with visiting friends and family, to Pizzeria Delfina. We walk all over Pacific Heights and shop at Sur La Table on Union, the Apple store and Lucca Deli on Chestnut, and go to Whole Foods on California several times a week. We love the services of Deluxe Cleaners on Laguna, and Rita attends Pilates classes at the Dailey Method in Cow Hollow. We bike from home to Crissy Field and beyond and like to hike in the Marin Headlands.

Alas, you’ll be moving on after next season. What are your plans?

I have just been named director asociado at the Teatro Real in Madrid. I will also conduct a lot in New York at the Met, and in Paris, London, Munich, Rome, Turin and many other places around the world.

What you will miss?

I will simply miss everything about this fantastic, charming city that gave me so much. But I will come back here as a guest, and sooner than expected. Remember that all who have lived in this city have left their hearts in San Francisco!