On Nov. 28, the new Yoshi's in San Francisco opens as the anchor of the new $72 million Fillmore Heritage Center -- a 13-story mixed-use development that also includes a restaurant, gallery/museum and housing.
The most immediate impact will address what has been, for years, a gaping hole in the city's arts scene: It's amazing to think that a destination city of San Francisco's size and reputation for the arts has long been without a major jazz club.
The SFJAZZ organization does a great job with its spring and fall festivals, but for the most part, fans have had to go to Yoshi's at Jack London Square in Oakland to get their fix of Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Charlie Hunter and Mike Stern.
Jazz lovers can look for those artists at the new 417-seat state-of-the-art club. Over the next few months, they can also see the likes of the Count Basie Orchestra and Arturo Sandoval.
From the get-go, expectations are high for the new Yoshi's to offer a musical experience that equals or surpasses that delivered by any jazz club in the nation. So how much of a ripple can we expect from the new fish jumping into our jazz pond?
Shot in the arm
Like the Jack London Square location, the new Yoshi's will host two shows a 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
That number represents a very big slice of the available pie. And it makes one wonder, who will be left to support jazz at other clubs and restaurants?
For now, most in the jazz community are hoping that the hoo-ha surrounding the new club will help increase awareness of the art form and build a much larger -- and more active -- Bay Area jazz scene.
"I think it should give the jazz scene in the Bay Area a shot in the arm," says Peter Williams, 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.'"
Most in the local jazz community speak positively about the new club. They say Yoshi's S.F. should attract new listeners to the art form and, as a result, help increase attendance at smaller clubs around the Bay. That could 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!"
He's surprised that San Francisco has not had a major jazz club since the closing of Kimballs in the '90s, and notes that 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," says Amendola.
He points to the San Francisco Jazz Festival, which operates nearly year-round and shines a spotlight 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 ultimate fate of the new Yoshi's. They will be trusted to draw crowds out to their shows -- and convince these listeners there is more to Yoshi's than just national headliners -- as well as to just be vocal champions of the venue.
"I've been telling people about the club and handing out fliers," says San Francisco-based jazz vocalist Sony Holland, who performs Dec. 11 at Yoshi's S.F. "I'll do my part and I hope that other people do theirs as well."
The playing field
The new Yoshi's will face plenty of competition in S.F.'s bustling nightlife scene. Many believe, however, that the competition won't come from the existing jazz venues.
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 S.F., in contrast, will need to attract the general public on a regular basis in order to succeed. It will need to book acts that can fill much larger rooms than, say, what is arguably the current top dog of the San Francisco jazz scene -- Jazz at Pearl's.
"There are acts that clearly aren't going to be playing at Pearl's -- because I can't afford them," says vocalist Kim Nalley, who owns Jazz at Pearl's. "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 single club could have a grand effect on all 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 frequently compete 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, have been 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. Looking at their respective schedules, the club seems to be doing a fine 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 concertgoers, since less than 20 percent of Yoshi's current audience hails from San Francisco.
"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."
Thus far, ticket sales for the new club have been "brisk," according to Williams. The club is off to a good start, but Yoshi's -- like all other venues -- faces a tough battle if it's to make it over the long haul.
Its real challenge is the same one that faces arts and culture as a whole -- and that's getting folks to turn off the TV and embark on a night on the town.
"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 the public to better take advantage of such opportunities is no simple matter. Yet it will be a key component to the success of Yoshi's S.F., 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.
A short visit
Yoshi's San Francisco will be a palace of jazz music. At least, it will be when the construction is finished.
On an afternoon just days before the grand opening, it's clear -- there's much work left to be done. Construction workers are busy nailing, hammering and welding. Still, there's enough there to confirm that the look of the new Yoshi's will match fans' wildest expectations.
The restaurant, bar area and banquet rooms should be sensational, worthy of a visit whether or not one digs jazz. But everybody digs jazz, right? So, let's get right to the main course -- the 417-seat club itself, which should immediately become one of the top rooms for any style of music in the entire Bay Area.
As cliche as it sounds, there won't be a bad seat in the house. Fans who turn out to see Roy Haynes, Taj Mahal or any of the other acts scheduled for the first few weeks will sit in one of two levels, both of which offer great sightlines from even the farthest-away nooks. The main floor will house 317 fans and, even from the very back, one is only 36 feet away from the stage. Add a few feet to that, obviously, for the 100-seat balcony. Up top there, fans will be treated to some of the best views in the house.
"Of course, the choice seats are going to be the first row of the mezzanine,'' says Joan Rosenberg, marketing director for Yoshi's. "That's where everyone is going to want to sit.''
They hadn't finished the sound system by the time of my walk-through, but one can assume that the room will sound as good as it looks. The top-notch sound at Yoshi's Oakland spot is one of the reasons why it's become a favorite stop with artists. Expect no less in San Francisco.
For those worried about parking in the area -- which, as Fillmore patrons can attest, is a valid concern -- the venue offers 120 parking spaces under the building. There's also a public lot across the street.
WHAT: Yoshi's San Francisco
WHERE: 1330 Fillmore St.,
CONTACT: 415-655-5600, http://www.yoshis.com
-- Jim Harrington