After more than 35 years, Yoshi’s, an internationally known East Bay jazz nightclub and restaurant, has recently opened a second outpost in San Francisco’s historic Fillmore District. Incredibly, the same three friends who started Yoshi’s in 1973, Kaz Kajimura, Yoshie Akiba, and Hiroyuki Hori, have owned and ran both clubs until when Hori announced his retirement in 2008.
The new club in San Francisco is Yoshi’s biggest gamble yet. The Fillmore, nicknamed the Harlem of the West, was a jazz and blues hot spot in the 1940s and ’50s. But the neighborhood was obliterated by a redevelopment project begun by the city of San Francisco in 1958.
Many hope that Yoshi’s, and some of the other smaller music venues, will spark a revitalization of the old jazz district. But some critics feel that the upscale club is out of place with the rest of the neighborhood. In an effort to keep the music accessible to the community, Yoshi’s puts on a series of concerts dubbed “Local Legends,” featuring homegrown musicians and lower ticket prices.
Spark captures a fiery performance by blues singer Sugar Pie de Santo, who returns to the Yoshi’s Fillmore stage — just around the corner from where she grew up and was discovered by Johnny Otis in 1955 at the Eddy Street theater talent show. Kajimura and Akiba also discuss the club’s history, from its start as a tiny Japanese restaurant in Berkeley, to their move to Oakland’s Jack London Square, and now its current incarnation.