Stars turning out for tribute to famed SF nightclub Keystone Korner
Courtesy of Charles McPherson Famed Saxophonost Charles McPherson, who performed the final show at the Keystone Korner, will perform during a series of concerts this week honoring the iconic San Francisco club.
By ANDREW GILBERT | Correspondent
PUBLISHED: July 5, 2017 at 8:30 am | UPDATED: July 6, 2017 at 8:59 am
As a child growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Todd Barkan dreamed of San Francisco, inspired by the mercenary Paladin from the 1950s television Western “Have Gun — Will Travel.”
But the hippie era was in full swing by the time he settled in the city after graduating from Oberlin College, and rather than embracing the ethic of the lone gunman Barkan ended up creating Keystone Korner, the North Beach jazz club that became a familial home base for a multi-generational cast of master musicians during its meteoric run from 1972-1983.
Part of what made Keystone such a vital cultural hub was that it brought together visionaries of all strands. Beat poets and stand up comics, political activists, visual artists and rock stars like Jerry Garcia and Carlos Santana were all regulars.
“Red Foxx, Robin Williams, Richard Pryor and Angela Davis were intermingling with the musicians,” says Barkan, who’s orchestrated a series of concerts around the region to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Keystone’s opening. “There was a collegiality in the artistic community that brought together musicians, artists, poets and writers with the people who made the music on the bandstand, a situation that doesn’t exist today for the most part.”
The key ingredient in Keystone’s success of course was the action on stage, which showcased just about every jazz giant of the era. Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson, Stan Getz all played the room. Many Keystone gigs ended up on essential live albums, including classic sessions by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, McCoy Tyner and pianist Bill Evans.
The 45th anniversary concerts draw on the extraordinary pool of talent associated with the club. The festivities start Thursday July 6 at San Jose’s Café Stritch with Bay Area drum master Akira Tana leading an organ combo featuring top jazz musicians from Japan.
Tana first played Keystone in the early 1980s with the Heath Brothers but his most vivid Keystone memories came from a seat in the audience when he caught a New Year’s gig with Max Roach, Bobby Hutcherson and Dexter Gordon.
The Keystone Korner in San Francisco drew A-List performers and equally famous guests in its heyday. Courtesy of Todd Barkan
“It was not fancy but it was a thriving, incredible club,” Tana says. “Todd had the foresight to record this stuff. He’s a visionary in terms of realizing how important this music is.”
The celebration expands exponentially July 7 at Kuumbwa Jazz Center with an all-star roster of players, including bassist Ray Drummond and percussionist Kenneth Nash (part of the first quartet that Barkan booked at the club), and alto sax great Charles McPherson, who played the last Keystone set before the IRS shut the venue down.
Resurgent saxophonist Azar Lawrence and bassist Juini Booth, who both played on McCoy Tyner’s Keystone-recorded 1975 album “Atlantis,” are part of the program, as are Akira Tana, saxophonist Gary Bartz, drum great Roy McCurdy, pianist Theo Saunders, saxophonist Mel Martin, guitarist Calvin Keys, and others.
The party moves to Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society on July 8, with piano great Denny Zeitlin and powerhouse vocalist Kenny Washington joining the players named above. The celebration concludes later that day at Pier 23 in San Francisco with many of the same musicians (minus Tana, Washington, Zeitlin and McPherson).
For Barkan, who was named a 2018 NEA Jazz Master last month, Keystone is part of a Bay Area cultural continuum. “Bill Graham was a mentor to me,” he says. “He loved what Keystone was all about.”
Todd Barkan / Keystone Korner Slideshow 1971-2011
Kuumbwa co-founder Tim Jackson and SFJazz founder Randall Kline both credit Keystone as paving the way for their organizations. SFJazz started as the Jazz in the City concert series in 1983, “the same year we ended,” Barkan notes. “They’re standing on our shoulders and I’m proud of that, just as I’m very beholden to Both/And and the Black Hawk,” San Francisco’s essential jazz clubs of the 1950s and ‘60s that preceded Keystone.
Keystone’s purview extended far beyond the Bay Area as Barkan helped open a Keystone Korner Tokyo in the early 1990s. Akira Tana connected with him again when Barkan booked him at the club and produced several albums Tana played on released by Japanese record labels (Barkan has produced more than 800 albums, including Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s 2014 Grammy Award-winning “Offense of the Drum”).
Featuring the Hammond B-3 ace Atsuko Hashimoto and her husband guitarist Yutaka Hashimoto, the band that Tana brings to Stritch on Thursday also plays the Stanford Jazz Festival on Friday July 7 and Piedmont Piano in Oakland Saturday July 8 (with special guest Kenny Washington on vocals).
“I was talking with Todd and we thought it would be great to have Japanese musicians involved,” Tana says. “And they were so tickled to be included, to be able to play and hobnob with these musicians they revere.”
Contact Andrew Gilbert at email@example.com.
KEYSTONE KORNER’S 45TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
When & where: 8:30 p.m. July 6 at Café Stritch, 374 S. 1st St., San Jose; $10; www.cafestritch.com; 7 p.m. July 7 at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz; $30-$35; www.kuumbwajazz.org; 2 p.m. July 8 at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Half Moon Bay; $45-$50; www.bachddsoc.org; 6 p.m. July 8 at Pier 23 Cafe, San Francisco; $20; pier23cafe.com.