That's when the new Yoshi's in San Francisco will open to the general public. The venue is the anchor of the new Fillmore Heritage Center a 13-story mixed-use development that also includes a restaurant, a gallery/museum and housing which has been built to the tune of $72 million.
The most immediate change will address what has been, for years, a gaping hole in the S.F. arts scene. It's amazing to think that a destination city of San Francisco's size and renown has lacked a major jazz club, one that presents the genre's biggest stars on a year-round basis. SFJAZZ offers spring and fall festivals, but, for the most part, fans have needed to visit Yoshi's at Jack London Square in Oakland to get their fix of Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Charlie Hunter and Mike Stern.
That will change on Wednesday. The new 417-seat, state-of-the-art club will feature all of those artists, plus the likes of the Count Basie Orchestra and Arturo Sandoval, in the next few months. It also will be expected, from the get-go, to offer a musical experience that equals or surpasses that delivered by any jazz club in the nation.
Looking past the obvious, in that there will be a new hotspot for local music lovers, people are trying to assess the effect Yoshi's San Francisco will have on the broader Bay Area jazz scene. In other words, what exactly will be the ripple created by the new big fish jumping into our jazz
Like the Jack London Square location, the new Yoshi's will host two shows per night, seven days a week. If they do anywhere near capacity business, which isn't an absurd assumption at least until the "newness" of the club wears off, that translates to more than 5,600 patrons. Add in the somewhat
smaller Oakland spot, which holds 330, and, ideally, Yoshi's would like to draw some 10,000 fans per week.
Those numbers might send quick shivers down the spines of every other jazz promoter in the area. Ten thousand fans is a big slice of the available pie. It makes one wonder, who will be left to support jazz at other clubs and restaurants?
The answer will be told in time. Most are hoping that the hoo-hah surrounding the new club will help increase awareness of the art form and build a much larger and more active jazz community in the Bay Area.
"I think it should give the jazz scene in the Bay Area a shot in the arm," says Peter Williams, the artistic director for Yoshi's. "Lots of people are writing about jazz right now. I'm hoping that people read these articles and go, 'Oh, yeah, jazz cool.'"
Williams is talking about the fall-out, or carry-over, phenomenon. Something big happens in an area and others, not directly associated with the event, benefit. Think of the Super Bowl. When the National Football League's top game is hosted in a city, the excitement (and business) carries over to the area's sports bars and restaurants. Of course, the fall-out isn't always so positive. For instance, there aren't many mom-and-pop health food stores that help roll out the red carpet whenever a Whole Foods store opens in the district.
Still, most people with invested interests in the local jazz community are thinking quite positively about the new club. They say that Yoshi's SF should attract new listeners to the art form and, as a result, help increase attendance at smaller clubs around the Bay. That would also translate to more opportunities for local musicians, many of whom are having a hard time paying the bills by gigs alone.
"I think the new Yoshi's can only help add to a great scene," says Berkeley's Scott Amendola, a Grammy-nominated drummer known for his work with guitarist Charlie Hunter and various ensembles. "Why not? Another music venue that supports improvised music? Bring it on!
"San Francisco proper has not had a major jazz club since the closing of Kimballs in the '90s. That's surprising. So it's about time, and I'm glad it's Yoshi's. There had been talk for years of a Blue Note opening. I, for one, am glad it's Yoshi's and not the Blue Note. The San Francisco Jazz Festival now is almost year round, so there's a lot of attention on improvised music in the Bay Area. I don't think Yoshi's could hurt other venues. I think it can only help emphasize the music."
Local musicians will play a big part in the fate of the new Yoshi's. They will be trusted to draw crowds out to their shows and convince these listeners that there is more to Yoshi's than just national headliners and be vocal champions of the venue.
"I've been telling people about the club and handing out flyers," says San Francisco-based jazz vocalist Sony Holland, who performs Dec. 11 at Yoshi's SF. "I'll do my part and I hope that other people do theirs as well."
The playing field
The idea that Yoshi's SF will be in direct competition with existing jazz venues in the area probably isn't a valid concern, says Kim Nalley, jazz vocalist and owner of North Beach's Jazz at Pearl's.
The venues that currently offer jazz in the city draw almost exclusively from relatively small niche audiences. These audiences include the dinner crowd, the hipster brigade, the local players' union and various neighborhood scenes. Yoshi's, in contrast, will need to attract the general public on a regular basis in order to succeed. They will need to book acts that can fill much larger rooms than, say, Nalley's 135-seat Pearl's.
"These are acts that clearly aren't going to be playing at Pearl's because I can't afford them," Nalley says of Yoshi's-caliber acts. "I can't afford Diana Krall. I can't afford Wynton Marsalis."
Most people don't even realize the wealth of listening opportunities that exist for jazz fans in the Bay Area. To say that any one club could have a grand effect on all of these venues might be overstating the importance of even Yoshi's.
"There are a ton of places there are restaurants, there are bars, there are public spaces," Alameda-based jazz vocalist Natasha Miller says of the number of jazz venues in the Bay Area. "Yoshi's is so different. It's like Davies Symphony Hall. It's like a whole different thing. It's not going to take people away from the other places. Most of the other places don't even have a cover charge."
While Yoshi's won't be competing often with smaller clubs for booking acts or drawing crowds, it could find itself in the strange predicament of battling itself in putting together a concert calendar. That's because the only comparable club in the area is Yoshi's at Jack London Square. East Bay folks, who are used to San Francisco getting the lion's share of attention, were understandably worried that the Oakland location's schedule would suffer as the club booked the best acts across the Bay.
Thus far, that hasn't proven to be the case. The club is doing a balancing act along the Bay Bridge, with many major acts splitting their time between both clubs. That might not turn out to be as repetitive as it sounds for concert-goers, because less than 20 percent of Yoshi's current audience hails from San Francisco. That leads one to speculate that, for the most part, the two Yoshi's will be aiming for different geographic crowds.
"It's very possible that many people in San Francisco have never been over to the Yoshi's in Oakland," says Mike Kappus, owner of San Francisco's Rosebud Agency, which represents such artists as Bill Frisell and Charlie Musselwhite. "Rather than splitting the market, they might be adding a lot of people to it."
So far, ticket sales for the new club have been "brisk," according to Williams, with tickets for opening night selling out in roughly one day. The club is off to a good start, but Yoshi's like all other venues faces a tough battle if it's going to make it for the long haul.
Its real challenge is the same one that faces arts and culture as a whole and that's in getting folks to turn off the TV and go out for a night on the town. Society is so caught up in a celebrity craze, dying to know who was voted off "Dancing With the Stars" or what Lindsay Lohan will do next, that they have little capacity left to appreciate great live entertainment.
"If Billie Holiday were alive right now, and she was playing the kind of gigs that she was playing, people wouldn't even know about her," Nalley remarks. "People just need to know that something is happening that is more exciting than what's going on inside the house."
Educating people about that is no simple matter, and yet it will be a key component to the success of Yoshi's SF as well as the entire Bay Area jazz scene.
"People now have 600 channels of cable. They can order in food and never even leave the house," Williams says. "But there is nothing like seeing live music."
Reach Jim Harrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.