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April 5, 2019

Jazz and Blues in San Francisco


Much as the 1960s flower children fueled the San Francisco sound of rock and roll, the tens of thousands of African Americans who came to the Bay Area in the 1940s with the military to work in the shipyards amplified the audience for mainstream-modern jazz and, particularly, blues in all its forms. Clubs opened on Fillmore Street where Jimbo's famous after-hours Bop City tea room, among other spots, flourished through the 1950s.

Across the Bay, West Oakland jazz, swing and blues clubs have an even older history; in the early 1920s, Kid Ory's and King Oliver's bands and pianist Jelly Roll Morton were playing there. The Bay Area black musicians union was based in Oakland; it was not until 1960 that the white San Francisco Local 6 merged with the Oakland local.

After World War II, many clubs clustered in North Beach in San Francisco: El Matador, Basin Street West, Jazz Workshop, The Cellar, Keystone Korner, Off Broadway and Turk Murphy's Earthquake McGoon's. Scattered around the city were the Black Hawk (Turk and Hyde), where Dave Brubeck played intermission piano on Sunday afternoons, with Johnny Mathis occasionally singing and Art Tatum, John Coltrane, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Lester Young et al. played two-week gigs; the Both/And, Great American Music Hall, Say When, Club Hangover, Mocombo, Fack's I & 2, The Dawn Club (home of the Lu Watters Yerba Buena Jazz Band) and, down on the Embarcadero, the Tin Angel and Pier 23, where Turk Murphy, Kid Ory, Bob Scobey and other “trad jazz” favorites played.

Where to see it

The luminous SFJAZZ Center is the first stand-alone structure in the country built specifically for jazz. Its intimate concert hall, the Robert N. Miner Auditorium, was acoustically and visually designed to enhance the creation of spontaneous music and the connection between artists and audiences. 201 Franklin St. 

Boom Boom Room
Get down with all types of loud, electric blues and, occasionally, good traveling jazz-blues bands. The crowds are predominantly young and exuberant and the headliners come on late. Fillmore and Geary.

Biscuits & Blues
A great room for blues and jazz and feels like a real city joint. It’s smack in the midst of the downtown theater district, near Union Square, elegant shops, but it remains a funky joint. Surprisingly good food, lots of beer and booze and top-of-the-line blues. 401 Mason St.

get tickets for biscuits & Blues

The Saloon
Opened in 1861, remains a classic blues and booze saloon. There were times when the likes of Boz Scaggs, Steve Miller, Janis Joplin and John Cipollena jammed away the night at The Saloon, occasionally joined by the late Chronicle columnist Herb Caen on drums. A small joint, always jammed; a few bar stools and lots of heavy electric blues. Not recommended for the faint of heart. 1232 Grant.

Elbo Room
This venue has long presented a mixed bag of music — sometimes being the jumping-off spot for big names such as Charlie Hunter and Mingus Amungus. A young, noisy crowd, electric sounds mostly, but good sounds usually and certainly a way to forget the outside world around you. 647 Valencia.

Les Joulins Jazz Bistro
A favored jazz-jam spot for local musicians such as Bishop Norman William, Larry Douglas and Charles Unger. Dinners from 5:30, music starts at 8 p.m. Open late. Close to Union Square, hotels and theaters. 44 Ellis St. at Powell.


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