Whoever came up with the idea of booking Roy Haynes as the opening act for the new Yoshi's Jazz Club in San Francisco deserves one of those genius awards.

I mean, this guy is 82, looks 50, still plays the drums like a holy terror - and there he was on stage Tuesday night, breaking in the incredibly lavish new jazz venue on Fillmore Street, a strip which, decades ago, was lined with jazz and blues joints and is now being touted and reclaimed as a cultural and social destination, with Yoshi's as the linchpin in the plan.

So there was a lot of symbolism involved in having Haynes up there: The man of eternal youth - who undoubtedly played at the old Bop City on Fillmore, decades ago, as did Miles and Parker and Coltrane (all ex-bandmates of Haynes') - was initiating the 417-seat club in the Western Addition with his all-star group (Kenny Garrett; Ravi Coltrane, son of the above; Gary Burton, and more). Eternal youth breeds and signifies rebirth; that was the theme of the night.

The 28,000-square-foot Yoshi's San Francisco is part of a $72 million jazz-and-condos cultural complex, known as the Fillmore Heritage Center, which fills a chunk of a square block just south of Geary Boulevard in the historically African-American and Japanese-American district. I'm not old enough to have hung out at Harlem's Cotton Club, but I've been in a lot of jazz clubs and have never seen one as eye-popping as this one, with its sleek design, its blond and dark woods, its

wide stairway leading to a soft-lit lounge, its adjoining 370-seat Japanese restaurant and lounge.

This is a jazz club?

Tuesday, there was free champagne. Waiters and waitresses circulated with platters of designer sushi, oysters on the half-shell and ice-cold margaritas. Drink up!

And rarely have I seen a jazz crowd as duded-up as the one attending this VIP gala opening. (Haynes and his band also played Wednesday for a paying crowd.) It was a reflection of the ethnically diverse neighborhood and the project's ambitions. Asian. Black. White. High rollers. Community leaders. Politicians, including Mayor Gavin Newsom (and, on videotape, former Mayor Willie Brown, waxing on about the old Fillmore joints and, now, the new).

Before the music started, the Rev. Arnold Townsend invoked Scripture: "Lift every voice and sing! . . . We promise to praise you on the high-sounding cymbals," he preached, cleverly foreshadowing Haynes' performance.

There was also a Buddhist purification ceremony, all incense and bells and hypnotic droned chants from a group of five monks.

And there was Michael Johnson, the lead developer on the project, an African-American, who seemed close to tears, talking about the years of effort leading up to this big night.

He shared the stage with the club's co-owners, Kaz Kajimura and Yoshie Akiba, Japanese-born, who were among the co-founders of the original Yoshi's in Berkeley 34 years ago and seemed amazed that the new place was opening on time and looking good. (Yoshi's in the East Bay, by the way, which moved to Jack London Square in Oakland a decade ago, is as active as ever and will share many acts with its San Francisco satellite.)

By now, you've probably realized that Tuesday was about more than the music, even with Haynes on hand.

There's a lot - specifically, a lot of money - riding on the new Yoshi's. Is there a big enough Bay Area jazz audience to support it? Will neighborhood residents swing by? (A question avoided Tuesday: Will Yoshi's be a force for economic outreach and inclusion - or more gentrification?) Will tourists and conventioneers go to the Western Addition to hear music? Speaker after speaker seemed more than a little nervous, telling the crowd that Yoshi's needs more than a one-night party; it needs seven-nights-a-week attendance.

I sure hope it works. Jazz deserves it. So does the neighborhood, the city, the region. Kajimura called the club a "field of dreams." He helped build it; now, will they come?

And will he stay the course and keep Yoshi's a jazz club, undiluted, despite economic pressures? Through the years, we've all seen more than one venue open as a jazz club and turn into something else.

Well, better to focus on the here-and-now: Roy Haynes. His Yoshi's Birds of a Feather Super Band, as it was dubbed, was a little ragged, what with the late start and the noisy gala crowd (not a music crowd; much of it left during the 90-minute set) and the fact that all-star bands tend to take a night or two to jell. (This one, minus Coltrane and Burton, is performing through Sunday at Yoshi's in Oakland.)

That said, there was a lot of good energy on the half-moon stage, which resembles the one at the Oakland Yoshi's.

Garrett, the alto saxophonist, turned his solos into surging incantations; he's one of the more amazing players around. Vibraphonist Burton (who first played with Haynes 42 years ago) was, as usual, a master of instantaneous melodic outpourings.

Then there was trumpeter Nicholas Payton (fat sound; perfect articulation; beautiful, athletic playing); bassist John Patitucci (the guy must have 30 fingers); pianist Dave Kikoski (the least famous musician in the group and the one with the strongest hook-up with Haynes).

Coltrane insisted on playing off-mike; his lines were hard to make out. But overall (keep in mind, this is based on a single night of listening), the room and its sound system seemed to foster a clear, natural acoustic, much less souped-up than across the bridge at Jack London Square.

Haynes sounded great. The man is an orchestrator and a dancer, ranging across his kit with fire and clear-eyed eloquence, never seeming to repeat himself, filling the music with unexpected explosions, breaking up the beat, tossing it this way and that, while always, somehow, advancing it.

On the Chick Corea tune "Bud Powell," he doubled the tempo with his right hand for about half a measure, while holding steady with his other three limbs; a surge of warp-speed dislocation entered the music, but just for a second.

On a waltzing, modal "Summer Night," he anticipated one of Payton's fleet improvised lines, matching every trumpet note with a drum stroke.

How do you explain it? Octogenarian Haynes is playing rings around most drummers. Coltrane and Garrett, when they weren't playing, stood next to his drum kit, watching his every move - gawking.

There was a lot to gawk at Tuesday: an ageless drummer and a brand new club on Fillmore Street.

 

Yoshi's

1330 Fillmore St. (at Eddy), San Francisco

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Upcoming shows: Tonight through Sunday, Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band; Dec. 3, Frank Jackson; Dec. 4-9, Chick Corea Freedom Band with Airto Moreira, Hubert Laws, Eddie Gomez; Dec. 12-16, Charlie Hunter Trio (special guests the Campbell Brothers); Dec. 18-22, Mike Stern with Richard Bona, Dennis Chambers, Bob Francescini; Dec. 26-31, Count Basie Orchestra with Ledisi

Show times: Mondays-Saturdays, 8 and 10 p.m.; Sundays, 7 and 9 p.m.

Admission: Ticket prices vary; www.yoshis.com, www.inticketing.com, (415) 655-5600