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Savanna Jazz struggles to keep its building, Clarion Alley Block Party is coming, Dirty Three and Saint Vitus hit SF, Godspeed releases its first album in a decade

Savanna Jazz's Pascal Bokar Thiam fights to save his venue


TOFU AND WHISKEY Sitting on a pilled blanket out in Golden Gate Park, watching Australia's folk-noise instrumental outfit Dirty Three tear shit up on violin, petting my SPCA-adopted chug and sipping my homemade beer, I thought, "this is magic." And then, "I'm pretty drunk." And finally, out loud, "I'm a cliché right now."

No mind. This is San Francisco. We all fall prey to a rainbow of snarky categories. And this was the breezy, free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Gooey, grey-streaked hippies were dancing all around me. So I'm a cliché and late feminist punk icon Poly Styrene's magnificent screeching vocals ring through my ears every time the thought returns: "I'm a cliché/I'm a cliche," (off Germ-Free Adolescents).

Just a few ticks after the 1977 punk era that spawned Styrene, an LA doom metal band called Saint Vitus arose in '78. Last Tuesday, a configuration of that heavy, Black Sabbath-loving, long-haired freak band played the Independent, much to my delight.

It was a new experience, seeing a true metal show at the Independent; it seems like those bands are usually saved for the Elbo Room, Sub-Mission, Slim's, DNA Lounge, or the like.

There's another venue in San Francisco we need to talk about now that's entirely non death-metal affiliated but incredibly deserving of attention and unfortunately, concern. The Mission's educator-run jazz outlet, Savanna Jazz (www.savannajazz.com) is in dire straits right about now.

Club co-owner Pascal Bokar Thiam — jazz guitarist, professor, Mission resident — and his two fellow co-owners are in danger of losing their building.

The picturesque jazz venue on Mission Street near 24th Street hosts live music six nights a week, and is one of just three true, full-time jazz clubs left in the city. It opened in 2003, and the educators purchased the building, including the four apartments upstairs (one of which belongs to Thiam) in 2005.

"It is so important to have jazz venues for the heart and soul of this nation, so that the younger generations can actually walk into a venue and see and learn about Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman," says Thiam. "You have to have a place to incubate this process, and give the younger generation a chance to learn about what made this music an art form."

Thiam and the two other owners were in the midst of a loan modification with their bank, Sonoma National, when Sterling Bank of Spokane, Wash. acquired Sonoma's assets. Sterling refused the modification. Then, "Sterling forced a strategic default by refusing to take our mortgage payments unless we paid the totality of our property tax due to the City and County of San Francisco," says Thiam, adding, "We have substantial equity in the building and the bank refuses to let us access it and it is now trying to take the property."

By rejecting their mortgages, and putting them in strategic default, the bank was also able to claim a notice of sale after 90 days. They filed a notice of default in mid-August. So, as Thiam notes, the clock is now ticking. Sterling Bank of Spokane had no comment.

Supervisor David Campos and organizer Buck Bagot of ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment) and Occupy Bernal have been working with Thiam to spotlight Sterling Bank's tactics and work as a third party between the bank and the venue. "If Sterling doesn't agree to speak with him, and to give him a fair and affordable loan modification, then we'll kick their ass," says Bagot, sitting in Thiam's office. "We'll call them, email, and visit them in large numbers. People's homes and businesses are at risk. It takes that kind of concerted action to get their attention."

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