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Jazz at Pearl's, S.F.

squid-kun | Feb 12, 2003 11:09 PM

The jazz club on Columbus near Broadway is losing its lease and closing March 20. No one goes there for the food -- chili, ribs, chicken wings and such -- but the place does have a chow connection. The owner, Pearl Wong, owned Great Eastern Restaurant on Jackson from sometime in the '60s until 1986. (Bonus chow connection: Her daughter, a jazz singer, is named Cookie.)

For the last couple of years in that location, Pearl ran an after-hours joint in the basement. The kitchen stayed open. Beer and other beverages were served (in teapots, which fooled nobody). Musicians who'd had gigs elsewhere in town would drift in, get a bite to eat, then take the stage and jam. One night I saw the late Jaco Pastorius pick up a bass and play like a madman. More than once it was getting light by the time I stumbled upstairs.

Pearl sold the Great Eastern and opened the current space in 1990. As I say, it won't be missed for its food. For jazz lovers, however, this venue will be hard to replace. No one is raking in the dough presenting local jazz artists (as opposed to the national acts booked at Yoshi's across the bay). Pearl kept her place going mainly because she loves the music. And the music has been wonderful. On Monday I caught up with the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, the big ensemble that plays there weekly. They were 16 strong and cooking, as tight as I've heard them. On Tuesday, something completely different: a trio of veterans led by pianist Mark Levine, anchored by the great, versatile drummer Vince Lateano -- by turns cerebral and jamming, the players exquisitely locked in in sound and mood. Any jazz hounds out there might want to drop in and pay their respects over this next month.

Jazz at Pearl's
256 Columbus Ave., San Francisco
(415) 291-8255
Open Monday through Saturday; first set starts around 9.

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