[Dixielandjazz] Keeping Jazz Alive in San Francisco
Stephen G Barbone
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon May 17 13:45:31 PDT 2010
Now if this would include OKOM . . . sigh.
May 14, 2010 - NY TIMES - By Chloe Veltman
Sleepy Jazz Scene Shows Signs of Awakening
A recent Sunday afternoon jazz matinee at Café Royale was a sleepy
affair. About 15 people, most of them middle-aged, sat around this
ramshackle downtown San Francisco bar sipping tea and wine while a
saxophone, drum and bass trio played a mellow mixture of mostly
standards. The noise of rustling bags of pistachios and yogurt-covered
pretzels, which several audience members had taken along for snacks,
accompanied the polite applause at the end of each number. Anyone who
stopped by the Café Royale that afternoon to take the pulse of the
local jazz scene would have reason to declare it faint.
Clichés about jazz’s being a dying art form — the province of a
generation reminiscing about the “good old days” of smoky clubs in the
Fillmore district and North Beach — linger in the Bay Area. And, as is
the case elsewhere around the country, the local jazz vista isn’t what
it once was.
“San Francisco still has some tremendous musicians,” said Ken Bullock,
who runs the monthly jazz matinee at Café Royale. “But for decades,
the city hasn’t been a great place for them to have a real public face.”
Yet the city’s most visible presenter of the genre, SFJazz (which
oversees the annual San Francisco Jazz Festival, among other events),
coupled with a simmering — if not quite bubbling — underground scene,
is working to keep jazz alive. And things may be looking up: SFJazz
recently announced plans to build a 35,000-square-foot jazz
performance and education center in Hayes Valley.
Since its founding in 1983, SFJazz has been a nomadic organization,
presenting shows in places like the Herbst Theater, Davies Symphony
Hall and the Masonic Center. Since 2004 it has developed its own
successful band, the SFJazz Collective, whose members have included
Joshua Redman, Dave Douglas, Joe Lovanoand Nicholas Payton.
The SFJazz Center, scheduled to break ground next year and to open in
fall 2012, will be home to most of the organization’s concerts. The
building, designed byMark Cavagnero Associates Architects, will
include a 700-seat auditorium with a thrust stage and a multi-use
black-box space, as well as rehearsal and recording facilities and a
The local jazz world is excited. “The new center will bring a lot of
focus to the scene,” said Marcus Shelby, the renowned Bay Area bassist
and bandleader. “It will also help jazz gain the same level of respect
around here that classical music does.”
The decision to build the center near most of the city’s cultural
institutions, including the San Francisco Symphony, Ballet and Opera,
and the Herbst Theater, is a canny move. The location could raise
SFJazz’s profile among the wealthy arts patrons who frequent the area.
According to SFJazz, which is nonprofit, it earns around 60 percent of
its budget from ticket sales and about 40 percent from contributions.
An anonymous $20 million donation kicked off the construction of the
In addition, the Hayes Valley location may allow the center to develop
its own identity, away from the Fillmore district, the city’s
designated “jazz heritage” area. This isn’t a bad result, considering
the Fillmore’s somewhat Disneyfied atmosphere these days. Hailed as
the “Harlem of the West” from the 1930s to 1950s, the neighborhood had
nightspots hosting performances by luminaries like Ella Fitzgerald,
Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.
But urban redevelopment in the 1960s closed most of the clubs and
drove away many of the musicians. The influx in recent years of jazz
clubs like Rasselas andYoshi’s, (the sister club of the Yoshi’s in
Oakland), as well as cultural organizations like the San Francisco
Jazz Heritage Center, have somewhat revived the neighborhood’s musical
traditions. But the shiny-looking upscale facades and interiors lack
The creation of a unified hub for jazz in San Francisco will certainly
create better brand recognition for SFJazz, but it also has the
potential to generate a more diverse community of artists. Because the
new center will be more accessible by public transportation than it
would be in, say, North Beach, people might visit in greater numbers.
Audiences will have a choice among large-scale auditorium concerts,
workshops and intimate recitals, or simply hanging out in the cafe.
The educational component may also draw in younger musicians
(including those from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music).
A new generation of presenters is also gradually helping to cultivate
younger audiences. Local impresarios, like Adam Theis, the founder of
Jazz Mafia, a loose musical collective, are producing soirees that are
proving popular among young audiences. An unannounced tribute to
Stevie Wonder and James Brown at the Coda Lounge last Tuesday featured
a 20-piece band, five singers and three rappers and attracted a
capacity audience of 150.
“The Bay Area has always been one of the top places in the country for
jazz musicians,” Mr. Theis said. “But the scene these days is
happening mostly underground.”
“Hotplate,” SFJazz’s monthly concert series at the Amnesia Lounge, a
hip Mission club, asks local artists and groups like Joe Bagale, Wil
Blades and Le Jazz Hot to reinterpret the work of jazz greats,
including Sun Ra, Jimmy Smith and Django Reinhardt. These casual and
lively events, which have sold out each month since the series began
last September, are packed with people in their 20s and 30s.
By forging organizational partnerships, focusing on younger crowds and
looking beyond traditional definitions of the art form to include jazz-
influenced genres like soul, blues and funk, the scene may well
survive and even flourish.
San Francisco clubs include Rasselas, at 1534 Fillmore Street, (415)
346-8696, and Yoshi’s at 1330 Fillmore Street, (415) 655-5600.
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