Not many people would have thought that a small student-owned sushi bar opened back in 1972 would turn into one of the world’s high-profile jazz venues. But that’s exactly what happened to Yoshi’s Oakland Jazz Club. Once a tiny bar that served Japanese treats in Berkeley, the venue is now Oakland’s most popular sushi bar and one California’s best places for live jazz.
Yoshie Akiba arrived to the U.S. in the early 1960s and dreamed of studying dance. After residing in Baltimore, she relocated to the Bay Area in the middle of its cultural revolution. At that time, little did she know that she would become the founder of North Cali’s premier jazz club…
In 1972, alongside her two best friends Kaz Kajimura – a journalist and carpenter – and painter and Japanese cook Hiroyuki Hori, Akiba opened a small sushi bar in North Berkeley. The original restaurant, which initially sat 25 guests, quickly became successful and by 1977 the three partners moved it to a larger space on Oakland’s Claremont Avenue.
That’s when Yoshi’s jazz life began.
Japanese Delights Meet Live Jazz
When Yoshi’s relocated to Oakland, Akiba, Kajimura and Hori decided to introduce live music at their restaurant. What once was a trio of students with plenty of dreams, officially began a journey toward the top of the international jazz scene.
In fact, over the following 20 years, Yoshi’s built itself into one of the world’s most respected jazz clubs and earned a reputation as the Bay Area’s premier venue for people who were looking for great food and the best jazz.
Over the years, Yoshi’s Oakland hosted gigs by jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Betty Carter, McCoy Tyner and Oscar Peterson, among others.
In 1997, because of its success, Yoshi’s was invited by the Port of Oakland to relocate to Jack London Square as part of a plan to revitalize the area. Together with Morimoto Architects, Yoshi’s built an award-winning 330-seat jazz venue that features a state-of-the-art sound systems and design.
Included in DownBeat’s list of 150 Great Jazz Venues – described as “The most venerable jazz club east of the Bay Bridge, which as been serving up world-class jazz and traditional Japanese fare for 40 years” – and occupying 17,000 square feet in the heart of Jack London Square, Yoshi’s is now among California’s greatest music destinations.
It is not a coincidence that, in recent years, world’s renowned artists like Cassandra Wilson, Dave Holland, Eddie Palmieri and McCoy Tyner have all performed at Yoshi’s, while in the Bay Area. Also Oakland-born stars like Ambrose Akinmusire and Raphael Saadiq, as well as prominent members of the international music scene such as Santana and Arturo Sandoval have had Yoshi’s as their first music venue of choice.
Hot live jazz is only half of what makes Yoshi’s Oakland Jazz Club one of the Bay Area’s most popular places, though. The other half, which has actually been part of Yoshi’s history since the very beginning, is delicious Japanese food.
For good-cuisine lovers, Yoshi’s restaurant provides a spectacular Japanese dinner that features pretty much everything one could dream of. From fried Japanese eggplant and tofu – known as Nasu Dengaku – to lobster, sea food, a wide selection of meat, sushi rolls and sashimi. At Yoshi’s you will experience Japanese culinary culture like never before.
After dinner, make sure to have an O-Cha, the traditional Japanese tea pot and something from the menu sweets’ selection. And for the more traditional people, Yoshi’s also serves coffee and the most popular after-dinner drinks.
Locals know that Yoshi’s is also a great place to go to for a drink after work. From Monday to Saturday, from 4:30 to 6pm (9-11pm on Thursdays), Yoshi’s hosts the popular happy hour. During that hour and a half, you can try delicious sushi rolls, popcorn shrimps, crispy fried chicken and other treats, as well as a selection of draft beer, sake and wine, for a low price.
For the fact that Yoshi’s is very popular (students love it because they can get up to 50% discounts – if you like Yoshi’s too, make sure to share this article), it’s recommended that you make a reservation for dinner.
Yoshi’s: Great Live Music on Both Sides of the Bay Bridge
In 2007, 10 years after Yoshi’s relocated to Jack London Square, the Yoshi’s family welcomed a new member. On that year, Yoshi’s Jazz Club opened a second venue in San Francisco. Residing in the Fillmore Heritage Center at 1330 Fillmore St., this 28,000 square-foot, two-story, state-of-the-art live music club and upscale Michelin-rated Japanese restaurant has brought great live music to both sides of the Bay Bridge.
Just like it happens with its “big brother” in Oakland, Yoshi’s San Francisco regularly hosts performances by the finest local, national and international jazz, world music, blues, neo-soul and Afro-Cuban acts.
The Golden Gate might be the Bay Area’s most popular attraction, but when it comes to live music Yoshi’s is second to none.
If you want to experience jazz with a touch of California’s traditional laid-back attitude, enjoy Japanese treats and take a closer look at this success story known as Yoshi’s Oakland Jazz Club, you have to stop by Jack London Square.
And after that, go double the fun and high-quality jazz with a visit to the newest venue, Yoshi’s San Francisco.
If you’re into jazz (and Japanese food), you’ll love Yoshi’s. Guaranteed.
510 Embarcadero West
Jack London Square
1330 Fillmore St.