Archive for January, 2009

The Fillmore on a Full Moon
January 19, 2009

It was a Saturday night, the full moon shining, as bright as it ever would in this lifetime so they said.  We were spontaneously cruising the Fillmore district in San Francisco, looking to see what was going on.  People I know come here for music.  Known as the jazz district, this San Francisco neighborhood is a hub for performing musicians which inevitably makes it a great neighborhood in which to don a hat.

Musicians wear hats.  I’m not sure exactly where it started, but I think its partly due to the historic conversation that musicians have with the great masters that came before them, from a time when everyone wore hats; partly the hat’s voice of attitude and confidence; and it’s sure to keep those bright stage lights out of your eyes.  I bet a hat helps musicians stay focused and keep with the beat.

Long before the music arrived, The Fillmore was a thriving business and cultural center beginning after the 1906 earthquake when the more severely damaged downtown was being rebuilt.  A Japanese community settled in, but this shifted in the 1940’s when the internment camps emptied out the Japanese whose homes attracted African Americans relocating to the area for war jobs. A number of music clubs catering to the community opened in the 1950’s.  Places like Jimbo’s Bop City, New Orleans Swing Club, The Booker T Washington Hotel and The Fillmore opened and drew in lightning acts such as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Thelonius Monk.  It became known as the Harlem of the West.

African Americans continue to represent a demographic majority, but the character that once made it a thriving Black community also targeted the neighborhood by city officials as a center of urban slum.  Beginning in the 1960’s a redevelopment project began bulldozing the Filmore down, block by block.  This unsuccessful redevelopment project was followed by urban gentrification.  Now Fillmore Street features an extension of Pacific Heights style boutiques and restaurants.  But the music lives on at The Fillmore, The Boom Boom Room, Yoshi’s and Sheba Piano Lounge.

We sauntered into The Jazz Heritage Center, drawn in by the large becoming photos of musicians shining under track lights.  Once in the the door I sidelined to the glass case of fedoras and pork pies, also gleaming under the lights.  This feature was for another local business, Mrs. Dewson’s Hats, who is a local institution just up the street and known for her wide variety of both men’s and women’s hats and outfitting luminaries who visit the area including the former Mayor Willie Brown with his fedoras.  She happened to walk in while we were there, and took one look at me and said, “That’s a beautiful hat your wearing”.  I was tickled to have my craftwork recognized by a woman who has been in the business for thirty years.  She was happy to share her business is up 35% this year.  We all agreed hats are big right now, exchanged business cards and then left the bright center for the night beyond.

Down the street we were lured by the swingin’ blues music wafting out of the BooM BooM RooM, that famous club John Lee Hooker opened in 1997 on the corner of Fillmore and Geary.  The doorman told us Bohemian Knuckleboogie was playing.  We went in and danced to what they toot on their website as “good music for hard times”.  I tapped, snapped, shook and shimmied to the end of their set, after which I reached behind the curtain and thanked keyboardist Jeff Orchard for making our night and signed their mailing list to make sure I could catch them again.  You can find them playing regularly around the Filmore and you’re sure to fit in wearing a hat at one of their shows.