As another holiday season under a stagnating economy draws to a close, it is hardly surprising that San Francisco would lose that rarely profitable of ventures, a jazz room.
But Coda, a bar, restaurant and club in the Mission District, did not seem like it was going under. In just a year and a half, it had established itself as one of the most interesting jazz-based schedules in the Bay Area. Acts like the Jazz Mafia tapped into a vibrant younger music scene, and salsa Sunday bookings and Latin jazz nights sold out. Stevie Wonder dropped by for a set; Liz Phair covered Velvet Underground songs.
Two weeks ago Bruce Hanson, the club’s owner, shocked staff members and promoters with the news that Coda would close after a New Year’s Eve blowout featuring Rayband and 8 Legged Monster.
Hanson blamed poor economic timing, not the business model or the musical genre. “Maybe if we opened today, we’d make it,” he said.
Though Anna’s Jazz Island in Berkeley and Pearl’s in San Francisco both folded in recent years, jazz-booking cafes, cabarets and smaller barrooms persist.
And Yoshi’s Jazz Club and Japanese Restaurant, with locations in San Francisco and Oakland, still attracts stars like Roy Hargrove, slated for January. Its schedule, though, is increasingly filled with less jazzy headliners like the Ohio Players and Public Enemy.
The booking strategy, said Jason Olaine, Yoshi’s San Francisco Jazz Club artistic director who used to work in the Oakland location, “is about survival.”
Yoshi’s in San Francisco has also benefited from substantial public support — the city gave it about $7 million in loans to open in the Fillmore District.
Coda’s death brings home the lack of local booking possibilities for jazz musicians. “I can only speak about my experience,” said Marcus Shelby, a nationally known bass player and band leader who moved to the Bay Area around 15 years ago. “But I used to have regular gigs — two, three, four, five nights. I’m not playing nowhere in San Francisco these days.”
But others point to a vibrant local jazz scene populated by small places like Red Poppy Art House and Jazzschool in Berkeley that foster experimentation across genres like world music, hip hop and chamber music. Shelby, speaking from Japan, said he saw great music all the time — just not in the smoky supper clubs of yore.