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Fillmore Jazz Festival to Celebrate Spirit of ‘67

Sat, 01 Jul 2017 19:34:00
5 / 5 (2 Votes)
Article by:
Brett Yates
Trumpeter Darren Johnston with the Electric Squeezebox Orchestra. The 17-piece SF jazz band, plays its own musical compositions and arrangements on Saturday, July 1, at the California Street Stage from 2:30−4 p.m. Photo via www.electricsqueezeboxorchestra.com.
It’s that time of year again. During the first weekend of July, the extended block party known as the Fillmore Jazz Festival will — for the 33rd consecutive summer — take over its eponymous neighborhood with live music, arts and crafts, food and dancing.
  
With each year, the festival’s theme changes. The theme for 2016 — “In Tribute” — encouraged artists to honor musical legends who had recently passed away, such as Prince, David Bowie, and Ernestine Anderson. For 2017, the theme is “Summer of Love Revisited,” a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the nationwide hippie migration to San Francisco.
  
“I know it sounds kind of flowery,” Artistic Director Jason Olaine acknowledged. “But when we were booking the festival, the election had just happened, and I was like, ‘Oh man, we need something to bring people together.’”
   
Although Haight-Ashbury is popularly regarded as the epicenter of the Summer of Love, the Fillmore Merchants Association executive director, Vas Kiniris, noted that the Fillmore supplied the movement’s soundtrack.
  
“When the kids wanted to see music, they all came to the Fillmore,” Kiniris said. “That’s where they saw Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin. The venues brought in the people,” he added, referring to the Fillmore Auditorium and the Winterland Ballroom.
  
It was up to Olaine — a jazz programmer at Lincoln Center who, before moving to New York had booked artists for Yoshi’s on Fillmore — to figure out how to incorporate the psychedelic sounds of 1967. That year saw the release of “seminal albums” [in Olaine’s words] by the Doors, Aretha Franklin, and the Who — plus the formation of groups such as Santana, Sly and the Family Stone and Creedence Clearwater Revival — develop into a contemporary jazz festival.
 
Olaine stated, “When I reached out to the various artists, I said, ‘I'd love to have you be part of the festival, but you'd need to weave something from the theme into your set, showing that jazz music can and does embrace all different styles of music and make it its own.’”
   
Olaine added, “With some artists, it just fell naturally into what they do. For instance, the keyboardist Terry Disley, he's such a wide-ranging artist that his own sets kind of go everywhere from Bach to the Beatles to Dave Brubeck to the Stones and Led Zeppelin; and he plays jazz. So he said, ‘Oh this totally fits what I do as it is.’”
   
For more traditional musicians such as the festival’s stalwart Kim Nalley — a classic jazz singer in the vein of Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughan — Olaine believes that the theme willpresent a “challenge,” but he hopes it will be “inspiring for them to look at doing some new material instead of just writing out a set-list of songs they already know.” He said, “I can't guarantee how many songs are going to be throwbacks or reimaginations of songs from that year, but it is something that's on their minds.”
   
The Fillmore Merchants Association conceived the festival in the 1980s, when, according to Kiniris, “redevelopment [had] completely changed the urban fabric of the Fillmore. It really tore apart families, communities. Thirty-five years ago, most of Fillmore below California was really disjointed, and a lot of the storefronts were boarded up.” Kiniris stated that the festival was “part of the Merchants Association's effort to stitch the community together and show what connects us culturally,” spotlighting the area’s history as “the Harlem of the West” and its musical “continuum.”
  
As the owner of Zinc Details, a furniture showroom at Fillmore and Geary Streets, Kiniris admitted that “day-of sales can be impacted negatively [by the festival], but we try to stress to all the merchants that this is not just about today's sales. It’s about the identity of the neighborhood, and it's about bringing people into the neighborhood that normally would not come into the neighborhood; and the fact of the matter is, we have basically 100,000 people that descend on the street, and it's up to us as merchants to leverage these people and really show them what the Fillmore is and show them what our store is.”
  
The Merchants Association hires Steven Restivo Event Services to produce the festival. “I sign a contract with the Association,” Mr. Restivo clarified. “I give them a guaranteed amount of money, [which] they use to promote and market their district year-round. It's their biggest fundraiser of the year, but I take all the [financial] risk, and the income comes from exhibitor fees, sponsor fees, beverage operations, and food vendor fees.”
  
About 220 exhibitors — including artists and craftspeople, wholesalers, small commercial businesses, nonprofits, and sponsors such as the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Black Film Festival — will occupy tents lining the 12 participatingblocks of Fillmore Street, alongside 30 food vendors and a handful of biergartens.
  
Restivo estimated that he took over the management of the festival “about 15 years” ago. He credits the increased popularity of the event — the largest free jazz festival on the West Coast — to two important changes: hiring Jason Olaine to book the stages at California and Sutter; and extending the radius of the festival to include Lower Fillmore, where the third main stage, at Eddy, is booked by local restaurateur Monetta White.
   
“It used to end at Post Street, I believe,”Restivo recalled. “We just wanted the whole Fillmore. My understanding is that the area between Sutter and Eddy was the jazz district, and we really wanted to bring it into the jazz district itself.”
   
Kiniris described today’s festival experience as “the flavors of Fillmore,” where “you start at the top of the hill, and you go south, and then the music does change, and it reflects the communities of the different parts of Fillmore,” as “classic jazz” gives way to funk, rap, and blues influences. Along the way, there are, as Olaine put it, “all these little nooks and crannies where artists have just plugged in their amps or set up their drums. There's a lot of impromptu, unadvertised entertainment going on that might be just as entertaining as anything you could find on the stages.”
   
Singer-songwriter Carla Helmbrecht first appeared on the California Street Stage in 2014 and will perform there again this year. She said it makes it for “a fantastic setting, where the crowd can get right up close. The sound crew is always amazing, so I never struggle with the acoustics.”
   
The 2017 Fillmore Jazz Festival will run from July 1 to July 2, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., rain or shine.
  
More information can be found at the website, www.sresproductions.com/events/fillmore-jazz-festival/.

 
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