Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Anna’s Jazz Island Closes

By Kathleen Richards
Wed, Jan 20, 2010 at 2:46 PM

Downtown Berkeley jazz club Anna’s Jazz Island closed unexpectedly last week. In an e-mailed statement (also posted on the venue’s web site), owner Anna de Leon cited issues with the developer of their larger-size venue on Allston Way — including “rowdy and disruptive events” next door at the Gaia Arts Center — as well as the desire on behalf of a new owner of the building to terminate her lease (de Leon says she accepted “an offer we couldn’t refuse”). Meanwhile, it looks like San Francisco’s Marsh Theater has found a permanent home in the Gaia Building next door to Anna’s. The theater, which has held events there in the past, tweeted nine days ago: “It's official! Marsh Berkeley will open its doors on Jan 22nd with Don Reed's "East 14th!”

The closing of Anna’s Jazz Island came about abruptly; indeed, there was no hint of problems in a recent profile on de Leon by Dave Newhouse. This may not be the end of the longstanding jazz venue, however. De Leon wrote: “We are now looking for a new space and a new partner, somebody who loves jazz, to participate in opening a new venue.” Read the full statement after the jump...

I am writing to tell you that Anna’s Jazz Island at 2120 Allston Way
is now closed. We hope to move soon to a new location. I am sorry
that I could not write this sooner. The agreement with my new landlord
to buy out my lease was only completed a few days ago and
I needed a few days to organize my thoughts...


Thank you to you, the musicians, who have shared your gifts with us.
You have been generous, wildly creative, fun, smart, good to all of us
and to each other. There is nobody more wonderful than you, our
local musical treasures. You poets too! Everyone, support them. Go hear them,
yes, even on rainy nights. Musicians need us. And we need musicians too!

Thank you to you, the wonderful staff here. We have been friends and family.
I hear over and over what I already know - you are wonderful, fun, smart,
good hearted and musical. There would be no Island without you.

Thank you to you folks who have come in, who have enjoyed and supported
the music. I have tried to make a place where jazz is comfortable, where
there is no green room, no proscenium, no far away stage, no anonymous staff.
I wanted a place where the musicians and those who come by to enjoy
the music share an experience. So you are not just audience, but all part of the
coming together of the music community. Thank you for being part of that.

I have been blessed by having my name on the door in Berkeley these
past ten years, first on University Avenue and now on Allston Way - and
even before that, on Shattuck Avenue in North Oakland! I have tried my best
to do my part in bringing jazz to our community. Thousands of musicians have
shared their gifts here on this Island and I am blessed to be part of that.


This change has all been very sudden, just a few weeks in the making...

After happily being on University Avenue for more than five years, we moved
to Allston Way, a venue twice as large with a stage big enough for a grand piano.
And such wonderful acoustics! The Use Permit for the two bottom floors specifies
an Arts Center and requires only cultural use. A theater was promised next door.
It was to be a thrilling move for jazz and jazz lovers. I designed the Island
and paid for the build out of the space.

Unfortunately, we encountered a string of broken promises on the part of the
developer, and a pro-development majority on the city council, which refused
to enforce the commitment to the arts. The developer rented out the theater
next door to private parties. Some of you have personally experienced these rowdy
and disruptive events, with armed guards at the entrance, with hundreds of
young adults in the street, where the block was entirely blocked off by police cars
and the “parties” closed by dozens of police officers, and where jazz lovers could not
get in or out of the club. Many evenings, it has been profoundly difficult for us
to present music. (For more details, Google “Gaia Building Party Police”.)
For some time now, we have considered other locations.

Which leads to the present moment. The new owner wished to terminate our lease
and made an offer we couldn’t refuse. We are now looking for a new space and
a new partner, somebody who loves jazz, to participate in opening a new venue.
We have palm trees, ten years of goodwill in the jazz community, a huge e-mail list,
and a loyal audience looking for a new musical home. We know the musicians are
ready to play! We shall see what life brings...


Have joyful new year full of music... If you need to reach us, please e-mail

In Jazz We Trust!

With love,


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