EDITOR'S NOTE: Randy Shaw's article about the new Yoshi's in the Fillmore elicited many responses. Harrison Chastang, who often writes for BeyondChron, provided his take:
Much has been written and spoken in the local media about the opening of Yoshi's on Fillmore and the 1300 Fillmore restaurant next door. But few of these stories have been from an African-American perspective, partly because there are hardly any blacks left among the Bay Area's press corps.
The best way to describe the feeling of African Americans in The City toward Yoshi's and the rest of the restaurants and clubs on Fillmore can be illustrated by a story many San Francisco Black residents tell about the city's nightlife scene before 2000. A scene from the 1982 movie 48 Hours
shows Eddie Murphy on the phone at a packed African American nightclub talking to Nick Nolte who's looking for Murphy. When Nolte asks where Murphy's at, Eddie replies "you wouldn't know about this club, it's in the Fillmore."
One of the first things many African American visitors to San Francisco would ask their host was the location of "that nightclub Eddie was hanging out at in 48 Hours." Local African Americans would have to tell their visitors that scene was filmed on a Hollywood set and the closest thing to such a club was in Oakland. African-Americans in San Francisco were filled with pride and great expectations when Rassela's owner Agonafer Shiferaw moved his successful Divisadero Street restaurant/nightclub to a brand new location on Fillmore in 1999, financed with funds from the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency with the hopes that such a spot would be the type of African American gathering spot envisioned by the 48 Hours
Fast-forward eight years, and Rassela's on Fillmore has not only become the gathering spot for local African Americans and out of town visitors, the success of Rasselas has spawned a smaller, more intimate restaurant/bar across the street known as the Sheba Lounge that's run by former Rasselas employees. After work on Friday evenings, African-Americans looking to engage in networking or discussing the latest hot news of the past week can be found at the Sheba Lounge bar or eating dinner while listening to piano jazz and vocals.
Several weeks ago, East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee was at the Sheba Lounge celebrating her son's birthday. After a few drinks at Sheba many folks will stroll across the street to Rassela's to dance to the funk/ol' school/blues bands that play nightly. Conversely, Rassela's patrons looking for a quieter venue will go across the street to hang out at the Sheba Lounge.
A month ago, a new player was added to the African American evening scene. The 1300 on Fillmore restaurant is an upscale African American owned restaurant that would remind one of Black trend setter B. Smith's (known as the Black Martha Stewart) restaurants in Washington and New York. 1300 is owned by a Monetta White, who grew up in the Fillmore, and her husband, David Lawrence, a Jamaica/London transplant who was the former executive chef of the Carnelian Room restaurant atop the Bank of America tower. The 1300 restaurant includes a bar and lounge area that has already been adopted by many of The City's Black insiders and movers and shakers who have passed the word to Black folks outside The City that 1300 is the latest new spot on Fillmore. On any given Friday or Saturday evening, it's possible to find folks making the rounds to all three spots.
I disagree with Randy's view that African Americans will not flock to Yoshi's. My sister is a frequent visitor to San Francisco and loves Jazz. Her last visit to The City was during the summer when Tonight Show
bandleader Kevin Eubanks was at the Oakland Yoshi's. I was unavailable Saturday evening when she wanted to see some music and I recommended she catch a taxi to see Kevin. She wanted to see Kevin but felt uncomfortable catching a cab to Oakland and paying the $40 cabfare plus the club admission. She wound up going to Biscuit and Blues, a few blocks from her hotel on the recommendation of the concierge.
My sister would have no problem going to Yoshi's in San Francisco and having a few drinks or dancing before and after a Yoshi's San Francisco show at the Sheba Lounge, Rasselas or 1300. I think there's also a misconception that African Americans will not spend a lot of money to see Jazz. Just this past Sunday nearly a thousand people paid almost a hundred dollars to see Queen Latifah sing Jazz at Davies Symphony Hall. Today $80-$100 dollars is the average price for a ticket to see Sade, Nancy Wilson, Anita Baker, Natalie Cole, George Benson and other crossover Jazz artists.
The key to attracting African Americans to Yoshi's depends on the effort Yoshi's makes to inform African Americans about events at Yoshi's; and to support education programs to cultivate the next generation of African American Jazz fans. After the controversy over the release of a Yoshi's university CD that didn't include any African American artists, Yoshi's promised to do more outreach to the African American community.
Yoshi's management has expressed desires to be a partner with the San Francisco African American community; the club is opening its doors to the community during a free open house being held this Saturday December 1st from 11 AM to 3 PM where community residents can talk to Yoshi's staff and management about African American community outreach. Yoshi's can also place more advertising in local Black owned newspapers and jazz radio stations with large African Americans audiences; sponsor visits by Jazz artists to the schools and insure there are strong Jazz music education programs in The City's schools.
The Jazz industry has been notorious for ignoring the African American Jazz market and does little to market or promote Jazz to African Americans. While African Americans in their 20s and 30s may be part of the lucrative hip-hop nation, hip-hop does not embrace people in the OG's (original gangsta or as some folks say old gangsta) over-40 demographic and as African Americans hit their late 30s, musical tastes begin to drift away from hip hop to some form of Jazz, be it Latin Jazz, Smooth Jazz, Jazz Funk or straight ahead Jazz as reflective in former hip hop diva Queen Latifah who, as a 37 year old women, is singing Jazz at Davies Symphony Hall.
A discussion of Yoshi's and the other spots on Fillmore cannot go on without mention of the recently closed Powell's Place, which, like Yoshi's, Rasselas, 1300 on Fillmore and Sheba Lounge, was financed in part with Redevelopment Agency funds. Powell's Place owner Emmit Powell was evicted two weeks ago for late rent payments despite pleas by Black community leaders to keep Powell's Place open under new management and an offer by those community leaders to pay the back rent. The Redevelopment Agency helped provide funds for Powell to relocate his Powell's Place restaurant from the now upscale Hayes Valley to Eddy and Fillmore across the street from Yoshi's and 1300.
Powell says customers stayed away from his restaurant during the year and a half construction of the Fillmore Heritage Building that houses Yoshi's and 1300. Powell assumed Yoshi's and 1300 would open in April of this year and Powell felt he would have survived if the Fillmore Heritage project was completed on time. Critics of Powell's Place say complaints about the quality of the food and the level of service were reasons the patronization of Powell's Place never matched the standing room only crowds at Eddie's, Flippers, Squat and Gobble and other Fillmore area restaurants.
Powell says the majority of people he hired were from the nearby African American community, and that he always tried to hire people looking for their first restaurant industry job or ex-cons trying to make a new start after prison. The owners of the existing Fillmore street establishments say they're hiring the best possible workers from an extremely competitive service industry job corps that includes few African Americans. The closure of Powell's Place creates an opportunity for someone to move into a fully furnished restaurant space and create a restaurant/nightspot that could fulfill the Redevelopment Agency promise to support a Black owned business that hires people from the community and provides food at reasonable prices.
Two Fillmore Street players that have not received much attention in the focus of the new music and culture scene on Fillmore are the Boom Boom Room and the most well known venue in the neighborhood, the famous Fillmore Auditorium. It's ironic that the Boom Boom Room does not get much mention in discussion of the Fillmore Jazz District in that the Boom Boom Room, along with the Fillmore are the only existing music venues on Fillmore spared the redevelopment wrecking ball.
The Boom Boom Room for decades was known as Jack's and hosted many of the down home Bop Jazz, Blues and Funk artists from the original Fillmore Jazz scene and is home to that same style of music today, with a mix of local artists along with touring groups like New Orleans Black Indians Mardi Gras band Wild Magnolias. The Boom Boom Room is on the north side of Geary Street, one of the widest streets in The City.
Many critics of the Fillmore redevelopment say the widening of Geary was intended to divide the mostly Black Fillmore District from the mostly White Pacific Heights neighborhood and turned Geary into a mini freeway. The usual crowds at the Boom Boom Room reflects the Pacific Heights demographic described by Randy; and relatively few African Americans regulars at Rasselas or the Sheba Lounge make the short walk to the Boom Boom Room, but Fillmore club patrons who do cross Geary often wind up including the Boom Boom Room on their list of Fillmore club spots.
The Fillmore Auditorium was known as the flagship venue for late promoter Bill Graham, who booked some of the most important shows in music history at The Fillmore, also known as the Fillmore West. Miles, Aretha, Jimi, King Curtis, Rick James and Ray Charles were just some of many African American artists booked at the Fillmore in the 1960's and 70's Today The Fillmore is run by the LA based Live Nation company that occasionally books African American groups like The Meters and George Clinton, but the majority of the groups booked at the Fillmore don't draw an large African American crowd.
The absence of a hip hop club in the Fillmore reflects the realities of the music business. The Yoshi's Oakland jazz club is open seven nights a week and has been around in one form or another for 30 years, and the Yoshi's name is well known, even among people who aren't Jazz fans. Most Bay Area folks can't mention a hip hop club and there's questions of whether a hip hop club could generate the seven nights a week type of revenue needed to pay the steep rents of Fillmore District venues. Most touring hip hop artists usually do a one night performance, compared with most Jazz stars who will play a three or four night engagement.
Today there's no real "jazz districts" around today. Good luck finding Jazz in Harlem, and the Jazz clubs in New York are spread out around Greenwich Village. Chicago today is known more for its blues than Jazz and other cities that once had a thriving Jazz scene in such cities as DC, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, St. Louis and LA struggle to keep the few jazz clubs in those towns open. The New Orleans Storyville neighborhood was a victim of a redevelopment type demolition project in the 1930s that destroyed America's original Jazz district. Relatively little Jazz is heard on Bourbon Street these days, and most of the serious Jazz in New Orleans can be found on Frenchman Street, a cluster of clubs and restaurants eight blocks downriver from the infamous Bourbon Street.
Many City residents were skeptical at claims by the San Francisco Giants that building a downtown stadium would not only increase attendance but would spark an economic boom in the South Beach area of The City. Giants officials prediction of "if you build it, they will come" has come true. Yoshi's can be the magnet that attracts African Americans tourists and locals to the Fillmore if Yoshi's, the Redevelopment Agency and The City's massive tourism marketing machine work together with African Americans media outlets, PR professionals and community leaders to insure that Fillmore street clubs book artists African Americans want to see and that African Americans know what's happening on Fillmore.