Pick up the beat - Page 2

Yoshi's arrival in San Francisco raises questions about whether jazz can revive the Fillmore
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But there's a proliferation of festivals."

There are jazz clubs — Jazz at Pearl's, under the strong stewardship of Kim Nalley and Steve Sheraton, is certainly a necessary element of North Beach, and farther north on Fillmore is Rasselas — but Kline believes there just aren't as many live music clubs as there once were.

Still, despite the fierce competition for eyes, ears, and dollars, the fact remains that musicians need to play. Performance has always been one of the most effective ways for jazz artists to sustain themselves and build their audience. Not only is there no substitute for hearing the music live, but venue sales have also become a larger part of the overall sales picture, observes Cem Kurosman, director of publicity for Blue Note Records.

"Now, with fewer and fewer TV, radio, and mainstream press outlets covering new jazz artists, touring has become more important than ever," Kurosman says, "although there are fewer jazz clubs on the national circuit than ever before."

The Bay Area is one of the top four jazz markets in the country, and it behooves artists to gain exposure here. That wasn't really a problem while the region was consistently supporting the music, when the music was here in the clubs and jazz seemed to swing up from the streets.

But times have changed, and no one recognizes that better than Todd Barkan, who ran Keystone Korner in North Beach. When Keystone closed in 1983, it was one of the last San Francisco clubs to regularly book national and international touring jazz groups. Barkan is now the artistic director of Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, the jazz club operated by Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and he's also a highly regarded producer who works with numerous domestic and European jazz labels.

"The reason there hasn't been anything in San Francisco proper for some 20 years is that it's a new era," Barkan says. "San Francisco is not the bohemian place that it was when I started the Keystone in the early '70s, which itself was a holdover from the psychedelic era."

While Barkan's place could not rightly be called a dive, it was a funky little crowded club. From the stage to the bar, the setup at Keystone was significantly removed from the state-of-the-art amenities at Yoshi's. In some ways, Yoshi's splits the difference between the club and the concert experience, the hope being that the artists and the audience get the best of both worlds.

Barkan says the primary jazz audience now has different expectations than it used to. "It took a number of years to get the business set up to have the right kind of a club that could really be competitive and cater to a much more upscale audience, which is where the real jazz audience is now overall," he says. "For better or worse that's where it's at."

That audience is also spread throughout the Bay Area, which is important for a San Francisco–situated club to keep in mind. "San Francisco's a little town," Barkan says. "With all due respect, 'the city' is only about 800,000. The Bay Area is 4.5 to 5 million people, but it's very spread out." His North Beach club got a tremendous benefit from the freeway off-ramp at Broadway, which made getting into that part of the city from the Bay Bridge simpler.

But Yoshi's San Francisco won't survive on jazz alone, as Barkan and Williams acknowledge. "To do the kind of numbers and volume Yoshi's needs, you have to have a diversified musical program," Barkan says.

Williams spins the challenge of putting butts in the seats as an opportunity to be creative. "I'll have to branch out a little bit in what we do," he agrees.

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