With the SFJAZZ Center's opening weeks away, Yoshi's manager that night, Beniyam "Benny" Kebede, sounded equal parts optimistic and realistic. "It might draw some of our business away, but we're not thinking straight-ahead jazz so much," he said as a suit-clad Jeff Hamilton Trio gamely chugged through standards in the performance space around the corner and down a narrow hallway from the bar. "They don't book R&B or smooth jazz, which we do, so that kind of gives us a leg up.
"We're trying to reach a younger crowd," Kebede said, and explained that recent comedy shows with Dave Chappelle and Robin Williams have sold well. "We're open to trying different things. Although it is Yoshi's Jazz Club — we try and stay true to who we are."
Reaching a new audience is a key part of what Kline sees as the mission of SFJAZZ, and it manifests in the main performance hall, which places intimacy at a premium with a maximum of 700 seats, and customizability that allows for seats to be removed to accommodate a dance floor for more groove-oriented acts such as Medeski Martin and Wood or be divided by curtains to make the space more intimate.
"What Randall was really after is something that had performance quality and focus of a great music hall but the intimacy, the warmth, the vibrancy of the club," said Cavagnero, who added that he also hoped to set aside the feeling of a conventional theater and an "us versus them" barrier between musician and audience with the room's sight lines. "Each time you're viewing the performer you're looking across the stage and seeing audience on the other side, so you're kind of enveloping their energy, right? You are intimately aware that you are in a room of like-minded people," he explained.
Walking through the construction site, Kline excitedly talks about the efforts taken to build the room's acoustics as well as the possibilities in lighting and projections behind the stage. "I'm feeling very kidlike, the idea of these little things we're talking about," Kline said.
But despite all the talk of the technology behind the SFJAZZ Center's acoustics, modern lighting and performance space, Kline described his goals as something much simpler. "Part of this is really a return to a much more primitive thing. ... The design of the theater is really gathering around the fire. You've got this space in the middle and everyone is around it, and you see everybody else and they're having an experience together. It's a much more primal thing that we're doing in a contemporary manner," he said.
"So," he added with a laugh, "hopefully it can work."
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