SAN FRANCISCO — The fifth annual “Flip Side of Yoshi’s,” a day of traditional and contemporary Japanese culture and arts, will be held on Sunday, Oct. 21, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Yoshi’s San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore St.
Every October, Yoshie Akiba opens up her restaurant to share Japanese culture with the general public. She is co-founder of the Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant in Oakland and San Francisco.
In the morning is a participatory workshop that includes tea ceremony, flower arrangement, sumi-e, origami, calligraphy, and a koto performance.
There will be afternoon performances of traditional music, dance and poetry with modern twists, followed by special 40th anniversary presentation of Akiba’s life story through choreographed dance and music with slides and narration.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students with valid ID (lunch included). Admission is free for children under 7 (Japanese lunch not included). For more information, call (415) 655-5600 or visit www.yoshis.com.
Since 1972, Yoshi’s has existed in many forms and locations, while remaining dedicated to providing the Bay Area with the finest in Japanese cuisine and entertainment. Yoshi’s first opened its doors as a 25-seat Japanese restaurant just north of the UC Berkeley campus.
In only five years, the small storefront that nurtured the business’ formative years began to feel confining. In 1977, the three friends and owners — namesake Akiba, her husband Kaz Kajimura, and chef Hiroyuki Hori — converted a former laundromat on Claremont Avenue in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood into a 100-seat restaurant.
Presently regarded as one of the country’s premier jazz clubs, the music scene at Yoshi’s had a humble start, beginning in the late 1970s. The addition of a full bar and lounge with live music felt like a natural progression. The 40-square-foot, two-story wooden box addition was simply called “Upstairs at Yoshi’s.”
What began as a side project to offer dining patrons live music entertainment quietly developed into a proving ground for musicians from around the Bay Area. Notables among the performers included pianist and subsequent founder of The Jazzschool Susan Muscarella, Oakland’s musical patriarch and percussion legend Pete Escovedo, San Francisco’s journeyman percussionist and bandleader John Santos, and celebrated hard-bop pianist Benny Green (then a promising young Berkeley High School student).
Quickly the live music performances in the upstairs space became a hit with Bay Area residents. While piano trios and other local jazz artists performed on weeknights, the weekends were dedicated to salsa and Latin-jazz dance bands. Akiba, a Mills College-trained dancer, can still be seen on the dance floor at Yoshi’s during performances, particularly Latin-jazz and salsa.
The music performances became such a draw, that in 1985 Yoshi’s expanded again and added an adjacent nightclub, ultimately named Yoshi’s Nitespot. Featuring a full bar, dance floor, stage, and mezzanine, the Nitespot served as a full-time music venue, and allowed the bustling restaurant to expand its seating into the bar’s previous upstairs location.
Happening upon the newly constructed Nitespot, jazz club operator Chuck LaPaglia was immediately taken by the venue. Conscious of Keystone Korner’s closure two years prior, he convinced the three owners to let him experiment with booking national jazz acts on the Nitespot stage.
Not even a week after Herb Caen mused in his San Francisco Chronicle column that “jazz may not be dead — not with so many skilled practitioners around — but the venues are drying up,” Hammond B-3 organ innovator Jimmy Smith played the brand new Yoshi’s Nitespot. The East Bay Express reported that “fans flocked in like they’d been coming for years … By the time Smith and his quartet launched into ‘The Sermon,’ there wasn’t an empty seat to be found.”
On a rainy Thursday night in January 1986, Smith took the stage at Yoshi’s, unaware of the integral role his weekend performances would take in shaping the club’s artistic direction, and permanently solidified jazz’s place in the musical landscape of the Bay Area.