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Where jazz man Marcus Shelby chills out

From North Beach to the Mission, city has a healthy music scene. Here are some of the best spots.
/ Source: Sunset Magazine

Marcus Shelby knows how to stand out in a crowd. Perhaps it’s the natty straw fedora he wears to catch a Sunday-night gig at a Mission District dive bar. Or the dapper silhouette he cuts in the corner booth at a swank supper club in North Beach. Whatever the occasion, he’s bound to be the most stylish guy in the room.

A bassist and composer with his own band, the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, he’s performed at multiple venues and events around the city; debuted an arrangement for the Oakland Ballet’s tribute to Ella Fitzgerald; founded a music label, Noir Records; and served as artist-in-residence for the acclaimed Intersection for the Arts. “I try to hit up the various jam sessions throughout the week,” he says. “As a bandleader, you need to see who’s out there.” When Shelby is spotted in the audience during a performance, he’s likely to be called to the stage for a few songs.

While some buffs still wax nostalgic about the city’s 1940s and ’50s jazz heyday, “San Francisco’s current scene is pretty healthy,” Shelby says. North Beach has the history and lush ambience; the Mission has the avant-garde acts. Like any scene, this jazz world has its regulars. During a Monday-night show at the legendary Enrico’s, Shelby points out the 1965 mural of frolicking bohemians. “See that tiny woman in the middle with the spit curl? Her name is Millie, and we’ll be seeing her tonight.” By the time the eccentric Millie makes an appearance, the place feels less like a room full of strangers and more like a party of friends.

Info: Visit for Marcus Shelby’s performance schedule. The Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra’s latest CD, Port Chicago, is available on Noir Records.

Marcus Shelby's picks
Amnesia. Hot jazz of the ’40s comes alive on the first Sunday of the month at this dim, red-walled Mission District dive. A boho crowd in pinstripes and leopard coats gets down on the tiny dance floor. Gaucho, a tribute to gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, performs on Wednesdays. Cover charge varies. 853 Valencia St.; or 415/970-0012.

Cafe Royale. Located in the gentrifying stretch known as the TenderNob, this laid-back lounge hosts film screenings, open-mic poetry slams, and jazz. Shelby rehearses in the basement studio. 800 Post St.; or 415/441-4099.

Dalva. Candlelight, an excellent jukebox, and a cozy upstairs nook (open Fri–Sat nights) set this narrow little bar apart from the usual grimy Mission watering holes. 3121 16th St.; 415/252-7740.

Enrico’s. Steeped in North Beach history, with a heated patio for surveying the sidewalk scene. On Monday nights, kittenish crooner Lavay Smith performs with a trio including jazz veteran Allen Smith on trumpet. $$$; lunch and dinner daily. 504 Broadway; 415/982-6223.

Intersection for the Arts. Find theater, music, literary readings, and a gallery at this venue for alternative arts in the Mission. This month, the resident Campo Santo theater troupe debuts Haze (Thu–Sat Apr 13–29; from $9 Fri–Sat, no set fee Thu), a play featuring the work of local literary titan Dave Eggers, among others. 446 Valencia;, 415/626-2787, or 415/626-3311 (box office).

Jazz at Pearl’s. Sultry diva Kim Nalley, who owns the North Beach supper club with her husband, is a throwback to a more glamorous era. Some Monday nights, she makes a guest appearance with the phenomenal Contemporary Jazz Orchestra; on occasional Tuesdays, she leads her own quintet. $; dinner daily. Two shows every night; cover charge from $10. 256 Columbus Ave.; or 415/291-8255.

Red Poppy Art House. “One of the coolest spots in town,” Shelby says of the intimate performance space, working studio, and gallery in the Mission. An artsy house-party vibe and acts from around the world make it feel like a discovery. 7:30 p.m.–11 p.m. Fri–Sat and by appointment. 2698 Folsom St.; or 415/826-2402.

Tosca Cafe. Storied North Beach hangout, with the urban legends to prove it. Red vinyl booths and a checkered tile floor set the scene for after-hours celebrity shenanigans. Closed Mon. 242 Columbus; 415/986-9651.