Yoshi's SF Finds a Profit in Booking Beyond Jazz

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Yoshi's SF isn't just a jazz club anymore
For a spot that bills itself as a "jazz club/Japanese restaurant," Yoshi's San Francisco location sure books a lot of non-jazz music of late. 

Tonight and through this weekend, the three-year-old Fillmore space has a 19-piece Cuban salsa band, Elio Reve y Su Charangon, in the main room -- and its cozy chairs up front will be removed so the audience can dance. Monday night features Wobbly World, an "ethno-layering" of different musics from around the world. On Tuesday, Leon Russell -- a singer-songwriter who's penned tunes in genres ranging from bluegrass to rock -- will take the stage.

Later next week, the Pitchfork-approved hip-hop outfit Shabazz Palaces will throw down its avant-garde beats inside Yoshi's swanky club. And at the end of the month, the Yoshi's stage will have to weather the deep grooves of legendary reggae producers Sly & Robbie.

With such a diverse mix of artists like this, can Yoshi's San Francisco really call itself a jazz club anymore?

It turns out that the variety of acts gracing the Yoshi's stage is very much a deliberate effort by the management and Artistic Director Jason Olaine to broaden the appeal of the club and bring in more people. And from a business standpoint, anyway, it seems to be working: Yoshi's S.F. had its first-ever profitable quarter at the start of 2010 after opening in 2007.

Olaine told me that, with another Yoshi's only 12 miles away in Oakland, and the recent expansion of bookings by SF Jazz, the San Francisco club can't rely on jazz audiences only to fill its seats and buy its sushi.

"We seem to be presenting a lot of the same people," Olaine said of the Bay Area jazz clubs. "We [Yoshi's SF] just need to find more artists to present. We need to expand it ... I think any kind of music that's good deserves a nice play to play."

So, since that apparently includes hip-hop, will we ever see a punk rock show at Yoshi's SF?

"If you could guarantee me that punk rock would actually sell a lot of tickets," Olaine chuckled in response.

Yoshi's is willing to book pretty much any kind of "positive," "adult" music, Olaine said. "You won't see us presenting music where we need to have metal detectors."

Olaine noted that this formula -- a wide variety of genres, with late-night performances going till 1 or 1:30 a.m., and DJs in the restaurant -- seems to work best in San Francisco. The Oakland Yoshi's still books mostly straight-ahead jazz and does as well or better financially than the San Francisco location, he said. 

So, does this signal a decline in jazz audiences in San Francisco? Olaine doesn't think so.

"If you're going to build this place, you can't just do jazz," he said. "There's no way that it can support it. I think that Yoshi's audiences are musical ominivores. A jazz listener doesn't just listen to jazz anymore."

Follow this blog @SFAllShookDown and the writer @iPORT

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