Against the backdrop of World War II, dozens of Fillmore Street Jazz clubs hosted the era’s major musical talents, including Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Billie Holliday. Stars such as Joe Louis, Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood and Sammy Davis, Jr. sparkled in the audience. At the legendary Jimbo’s, Louis Armstrong went to check out Charlie Parker (the only known time they were under the same roof). Chet Baker snuck out of the Fort Mason barracks to jam all night, and John Handy played Bop City with John Coltrane.
In the 60’s, Jazz historian David Rosenbaum ran the Melrose Record shop on Fillmore Street, employing high school student Maya Angelou. Zen Buddhism was first introduced to the West in the Fillmore, which became a creative home to artists including Isaac Stern, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Mel Blanc and Alan Ginsberg.
In the 1980’s, a renaissance gave rise to the next generation of the Fillmore District. Merchant associations helped launch the first Fillmore Jazz Festival in 1986, giving new expression to the storied neighborhood. In 1999, the festival came home to the newly revitalized Jazz Preservation District.
Performers who have graced San Francisco Fillmore Street stages include Dr. Lonnie Smith, Denise Perrier, Lady Memphis, Kim Nalley, Pete Escovedo, Jules Broussard, Big Belly Blues Band, Brenda Boykin and Paula West.