While it may not be our official jazz district, the Mission has long been a stamping ground for Bay Area musicians and their fans. Local bandleaders Marcus Shelby and Adam Theis have for years added regular jazz gigs to the eclectic calendars at Amnesia, Elbo Room, and Revolution Cafe. Bruno's was another cornerstone for the scene, until the bar dumped live performances and switched to a DJ format last fall. Now a couple of industry vets — including two former Bruno's employees — are opening a venue dedicated to jazz at the corner of Mission and Duboce streets. This Saturday, August 1, casual supperclub Coda will focus on the locals in the jazz community, at prices to match typical Mission budgets.
Coda co-owner Chris Pastena is a former managing partner and executive chef at Bruno's, while booker Chris Arenas spent three years packing bands into Bruno's after years of booking Eastside West on Fillmore. Together with co-owner and Austin musician Bruce Hanson, the Coda crew plans on hosting mostly homegrown music six nights a week in the former home of Levende Lounge. Arenas has planned two residencies — the Jazz Mafia on Tuesdays, and B3 Wednesdays, which will focus on organ combos — with the rest of the calendar open to a variety of Bay Area acts that branch off the jazz platform into hip-hop and Latin music.
Of course, this isn't the optimal economic climate for opening a business, especially since Yoshi's, the last new jazz venue to hit San Francisco, had to receive multiple loans from the city to survive. But the genre is far from dead here, and there's proof that music fans maintain a strong relationship with jazz musicians. Back in April, Theis' jazz-rooted Hip-Hop Symphony took over the upscale Palace of Fine Arts to critical acclaim. Last week, the Examiner reported that SFJAZZ, the nonprofit behind the San Francisco Jazz Festival, accumulated assets worth $30 million last year and is so flush, it's looking into building a music hall of its own. (A spokesman says SFJAZZ isn't yet commenting on the issue.)
For Arenas, though, the decision to kick off a new series of jazz performances comes down to embracing a passion. "You just have to do what you love and go for it," he says, when asked about risking a new venture midrecession.
Arenas, who performs in the jazz and hip-hop combo Raw Deluxe, believes there aren't enough places for Bay Area jazz artists to perform. "A lot of clubs have shut down or turned to DJs," he says, listing the loss of Storyville and Jazz at Pearl's among the void. He speaks positively of Yoshi's, saying the Fillmore venue supports San Francisco artists: "A lot of the folks who perform with us do things over there."
Indeed, there's obvious overlap: The Jazz Mafia has committed to regular performances at both venues. Coda — which has a capacity of 200, compared to Yoshi's capacity of 375 — will also get some competition for patrons from smaller venues in the Mission and at places like Club Deluxe in the Haight.
But Coda's foothold could come in creating a destination for jazz lovers that doesn't fool around with too many outside genres, establishing itself, as Bruno's did, as a Mission haven for San Francisco heavies that is classy without the high costs. Menu items will cost less than $15 a pop, and Arenas says most gigs will cost $7 to $12, adding, "With these times you can't expect people to have that much money going around."
It remains to be seen how many San Francisco jazz fans can be spread among venues, but Coda has the right idea for opening weekend. The August 1 lineup features Theis and his Jazz Mafia, Shelby, and an evening dedicated to the music of Miles Davis. For that one, the owners are using a surefire recession-proof lure to get patrons through the door: Admission is free.