Magazine article Sunset

Jazzed Up

Magazine article Sunset

Jazzed Up

Article excerpt

San Francisco's Fillmore district swings again

When Paula West and Kim Nalley work the crowds into a frenzy for this year's Fillmorejazz Festival, they'll be honoring a tradition that dates back decades. "All the great jazz musicians used to play at clubs along Fillmore," says Carl Williams, an attorney and longtime Fillmore resident. "It was the center of African American nightlife."

The glory days of the Fillmore jazz scene faded for a while. But now, as you can see-and hear-this month, the neighborhood is back in the groove.

"I can feel the energy"

Centered where its namesake street intersects Post Street, the Fillmore district is buzzing again. On a Saturday Jazz Night, walk into Perry's Joint-an ice cream shop and art speakeasy-to get a sense of the community's spirit. Locals stop in to chat with owner Perry Bennett and comment on the art exhibits, and to get an earful of the week's jazz show.

Bennett loves that his store is such a gathering place. "It's like the neighborhood safe spot," he says. "If a kid gets locked out, they come here and get ice cream. If someone's out of work and can't pay for lunch, they come here and eat. It's just automatic. What I'm doing is not unique-I'm just trying to hold on to what was, to what I think is important."

What's important is the Fillmore's renewed role as a center of African American culture in the Bay Area. During World War II, African American workers were drawn to jobs with good wages in Bay Area shipyards. And the Fillmore had a concentration of affordable housing. The result was one of the nation's most vibrant black neighborhoods. Dozens of clubs hosted the era's major musical talents, including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basic, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holliday.

But by the 1950s, the neighborhood had faded. In the '60s huge swaths of it were destroyed by ill-conceived urban renewal. "What the Fillmore was could never exist again," Bennett says, regretfully. Still, he adds, the neighborhood is turning around. "I can feel the energy starting to change for the better."

That's thanks in large part to the community push to create the Jazz Preservation District in the lower Fillmore neighborhood, which runs south from Post to about McCallister Street and roughly to Steiner Street on the west and Webster Street on the east. With help from the city government-funded Jazz Promotions Office, new businesses are migrating to die area.

Rasselas jazz club is one hub of musical energy in the neighborhood. Run by Ethiopian-born Agonafer Shiferaw, Rasselas is regularly packed with a diverse crowd. …

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