Long before San Francisco's Fillmore Street was lined with trendy cafes and vintage clothing shops, before even the Grateful Dead played its first gig, this vibrant neighborhood was a playground for the most celebrated names in jazz. Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday belted out bittersweet laments here; Louis Armstrong came to hear Charlie Parker blow. And nowhere else besides medieval Europe could you hear a Duke and a Count swing into the wee small hours of the morning.
The dance halls and juke joints may have gone the way of autumn leaves, but for one weekend a year, bebop buffs, jazz junkies, and fusion fanatics can relive those storied times at the Fillmore Jazz Festival. The biggest free jazz fete on the West Coast celebrates its 20th year with music from the Bay Area's hottest up-and-coming talent, along with some appealing standbys. Vocalist Paula West, jump blues band Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, big band ensemble the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, and jazz/hip hop fusion act Mingus Amungus are just some of the players laying down the boogie live on three stages. Meanwhile, the work of more than 300 visual artists complements the tunes, and vendors serve a smorgasbord of Cajun, soul, and barbecue fare.
If you close your eyes (and ignore the sound of your arteries clogging) you can just imagine it's not the Fillmore's past you're hearing, but its future. The tapping and two-stepping start at 10 a.m. both days along Fillmore between Jackson and Eddy in S.F. Admission is free; call (800) 731-0003 or visit www.fillmorejazzfestival.com.
-- Jack Karp
We're going to say it again: Comic books are worth your time, especially at Free Comic Book Day. With a huge wave of mainstream interest (including a spate of movies based on superhero stories) in tandem with a ton of underground talent flooding the production end of things, this maligned medium is poised to take its place as a legitimate folk art form. It's not just for kids or escapists anymore. Are there some dumb ones still out there? Sure, but the Chicken Soup series doesn't stop you from going into Borders, does it? The giveaway starts at 10 a.m. at various local outlets, including the Collectors Cave, 2072 Union (at Webster), S.F. Admission is free; call 929-0231 or visit www.freecomicbookday.com for more venues.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
The play's the thing this year
Any educator can tell you that a play called Adventures of a Substitute Teacher is probably really, really funny. At the very least, it draws on a rich vein of hysterically absurd source material. It might also be heartbreakingly sad if it touches on the subject of the sub's pay scale.
LaborFest has a lot to offer this year, from boat tours to film screenings to other plays in the "Labor on Broadway" series, including one about Boxcar Bertha, queen of the hobos. But it's the play about the substitute (showing July 7 at 8 p.m. at the Exit, 156 Eddy) that's got that special something. LaborFest begins Monday at 7:30 p.m. with Haskell Wexler's new movie about Harry Bridges, From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks, at the Victoria Theater, 2961 16th St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is $10-20; call 642-8066 or visit www.laborfest.net for a complete schedule of events.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Doodads and wingdings to destroy and rebuild
The act of taking stuff apart and (optionally) putting it back together is traditionally the province of dads. This summer, though, everyone's favorite science museum is bringing such futzing out of the garage and into the public domain. Women and children, prepare your tool kits for "Tinkering!," an exhibition and series of events designed to give people the "So that's how it works!" experience. (Dad can come along, too.)
The exhibit's Take-It-Apart Days feature cars, toasters, bicycles, and other machines just for dismantling. The related display "Cabaret Mechanical Theater" offers a set of hand-carved "automata" sculptures full of gears and other moving parts. And a film series highlights great tinkerers like Grandma Tressa Prisbrey, builder of glass-bottle houses. Get a screw loose starting Thursday at the Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon (at Marina), S.F. Museum admission is free-$9.50; call 561-0360 or visit www.exploratorium.edu.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Props for Plate
Do you suppose underrated San Francisco novelist Peter Plate watches the recent success of other local authors with annoyance? Plate's books are just as atmospheric as Andrew Sean Greer's, and just as imaginative as Michael Chabon's. The lack of acclaim is even more criminal considering that Plate's sixth novel, the moody Fogtown, is a beautifully realized trip through the dark pockets of our city. Hear sordid tales involving lust, lucre, and the denizens of grimy SRO hotels as Plate reads at 7 p.m. at City Lights, 261 Columbus (at Broadway), S.F. Admission is free; call 362-8193 or visit www.citylights.com.
-- Joyce Slaton