"I don't think we'll be able to do just jazz all the time." At Yoshi's Oakland, Williams has added salsa dance nights on Mondays, and he consistently books fusion and smooth jazz performers like Keiko Matsui and neosoul acts like Rashaan Patterson.
The San Francisco spot will likely see a similar mix, though the inaugural performers are a mainstream ensemble called the Yoshi's Birds of a Feather Super Band, which includes vibraphonist Gary Burton, saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Kenny Garrett, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and bassist John Patitucci. Veteran drummer Roy Haynes leads the band, which Williams created specially for the club's opening.
Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band follow, and later in December, Chick Corea, Charlie Hunter, and Rebeca Mauleón will perform. Next year will see guitarist Pat Metheny, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, vocalist Cassandra Wilson, and guitarist Bill Frisell in multinight runs at the club. Williams will try various things, particularly in the early months. "December is mostly artists coming to San Francisco with one band and then going to Oakland with another," he says. Corea, Hunter, and Taj Mahal will all pull double Yoshi's duty.
"It's gonna be a learning experience to find out what works and what doesn't and how the two clubs can work together," Williams says. He will also have bands play the first part of the week in San Francisco and then Thursday through Sunday in Oakland, reasoning that San Franciscans are looking for more things to do early in the week. And he wants the club to be a platform for local artists probably early in the week as well but says Yoshi's will have to focus on national touring acts simply to get people into the club.
Local saxophonist Howard Wiley is bullish on the new club, hoping that, if nothing else, it brings some notice to jazz instead of more exploitative forms of expression. "I'm so tired of hearing about Britney [Spears] and strippers and all that stuff," he says. "I'm hoping and praying the pendulum will swing back and people will cherish things of value again. I always love it when more attention can be brought to the music."
Currently Intersection for the Arts' composer in residence, Wiley put out the self-released Angola Project earlier this year. The music is based on African American prison spirituals with roots primarily in songs and stories from the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. While Wiley hopes Yoshi's can bring in artists like Billy Harper and David Murray, not necessarily household names even in mainstream jazz homes, he recognizes the reality of booking the club. "I'm not so into Rick Braun, but I understand," he says with a laugh, referencing the smooth jazz trumpet icon. "I just hope the club represents the music to its fullest, because it's the only American contribution to global art."
Former club owner Barkan hopes the new Yoshi's anchors a reinvigorated jazz scene in San Francisco, one that can support another, smaller club as well, something with around 150 seats and less of an overhead, which a savvy veteran promoter like, say, himself might book. A smaller room certainly would make music more accessible to audiences. It might also underscore the notion that there just aren't the headliners in jazz that there once were the names needed to fill a room the size of the new Yoshi's. "When the Keystone was up and running, we had Dexter Gordon, Elvin Jones, Gene Ammons, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderly, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Freddie Hubbard," Barkan says. "The list was pretty inexhaustible.
"More than anything, jazz needs committed, dedicated presenters," he continues. "Yoshi's is to be commended for what it does.