Your Best Bets for Jazz and Classical in the Bay Area This Fall

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

four men posing in front of a white wall
Joshua Redman's classic 'Moodswings' quartet, with Brian Blade, Christian McBride, Redman and Brad Mehldau (L–R), perform at both SFJAZZ's Miner Auditorium and the Monterey Jazz Festival this fall. (Michael Wilson/Nonesuch Records)

Find more of KQED’s picks for the best Fall 2022 events here.

The leaves turn, the days shorten and, each fall, performing arts groups ready their new seasons. While my colleague Nastia Voynovskaya brings you the top concerts, festivals and nightclub dates this fall, here are KQED's picks for the grown-and-seasoned lovers of jazz and classical.

a woman in an orange dress and a man in a green robe embrace against a black backdrop on stage
Amina Edris as Cleopatra and Gerald Finley as Antony in a rehearsal still from SF Opera's 'Antony and Cleopatra.' (Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)

Antony and Cleopatra

Sept. 10–Oct. 5
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

The last time John Adams premiered an opera at the War Memorial Opera House, he dug back into California history for Girls of the Golden West, a gold-rush story that KQED Arts & Culture’s Nastia Voynovskaya called “a timely dialogue about our state history that helps us better understand the present.” This time around, Adams travels back even further, to one of the world’s most famous love stories, as composer and librettist. Any new work by Adams is cause for celebration, and under the direction of Elkhanah Pulitzer, Antony and Cleopatra stars Gerald Finley and Amina Edris in the title roles.

a Black man in a Converse All-Stars t-shirt stands on front of a drum set
Billy Cobham celebrates his second album, Crosswinds, at Yoshi's in September. (Yoshi's)

Billy Cobham’s Crosswinds Project

Sept. 20–21
Yoshi’s, Oakland

The venerable Oakland jazz club Yoshi’s has a sampladelic fall coming up. Bob James, who has been sampled so many times in hip-hop songs that he’s devoted a whole YouTube reaction series to them, hits the Yoshi’s stage Oct. 23. But drummers will rejoice at the booking of Billy Cobham, who plays Yoshi’s Sept. 20–21. Of course, here in the Bay Area, we know Cobham’s “Heather” as the sample source for one of our bona fide anthems: “93 Til Infinity.” It’s serendipity, then, that he brings to Oakland his Crossroads Project, a group formed to celebrate Crossroads, the album containing “Heather”—and the inadvertent seed of a Bay Area hip-hop hit.

a man at the drums and a man playing saxophone, in diptych
Nate Smith (left) and Immanuel Wilkins (right) come to SFJAZZ as part of the 'Traditions in Transition' series. (SFJAZZ)

Nate Smith + Kinfolk / Immanuel Wilkins Quartet

Sept. 22
SFJAZZ Miner Auditorium, San Francisco

With SFJAZZ’s upcoming ‘Traditions in Transition’ series, no jazz fan should miss out on the chance to see Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Brad Mehldau and Brian Blade (Sept. 23), Julian Lage (Sept. 24) or Orquesta Akokan (Sept. 25). But I’m gonna give it up for the new breed here with drummer Nate Smith and alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins. Wilkins’ latest album for Blue Note, The 7th Hand, is a rich entry to the modern spiritual jazz canon, and Grammy-nominated Smith is a dazzling player in a live setting.

a black and white photo of a man sitting at a piano
Lubomyr Melnyk at the Aarhus Festival in Denmark, 2018. Melnyk performs at The Lab in San Francisco Sept. 23. (Hreinn Gudlaugsson)

Lubomyr Melnyk

Sept. 23
The Lab, San Francisco

Ukrainian composer Lubomyr Melnyk is getting a little more notice this year, and it’s overdue: his prolific output of experimental minimalism stretches back to the 1970s. Unlike other minimalists like Philip Glass or Steve Reich, Malnyk veers into the eerie, the noisy, the tense. What’s probably now his best-known work, “Pockets of Light,” features the vocals of multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick, and he’s even performed a set for Boiler Room, the well-known DJ series. In the intimate upstairs confines of The Lab, a treasured arts space in the Mission District, his trance-like music should be especially resonant.

a Black man sings, wearing a white suit and bowtie
Gregory Porter at the Kongsberg Jazzfestival in Norway in 2018. Porter performs at this year's Monterey Jazz Festival. (Tore Sætre / Wikimedia)

Monterey Jazz Festival

Sept. 23–Sept. 25
Monterey County Fairgrounds

The Monterey Jazz Festival is technically outside of the Bay Area, but it's a bona fide institution. In its 65th year this September, the festival is still in semi-scaled-back mode, with fewer stages and performers. But the heavy hitters are still on the bill: Ravi Coltrane, Gregory Porter, Chucho Valdés, Joshua Redman's classic Moodswings quartet, Gerald Clayton, Julian Lage and many others. Always worth the drive, the festival's setting is serene and the music top-notch.


Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the San Francisco Symphony on Jan. 18.
Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the San Francisco Symphony in 2019. (Brandon Patoc/San Francisco Symphony)

Salonen Conducts Mahler

Sept. 29–Oct. 2
Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco

Those who know the San Francisco Symphony might be looking at this program and thinking, “Hey, who does the new guy think he is, anyway?” That’s because Music Director Emeritus Michael Tilson Thomas all but synonymized himself with Mahler in his 25 years with the symphony, performing and recording an award-winning cycle of Mahler's symphonies. But here in San Francisco, Esa-Pekka Salonen has been pulling off a remarkable Joe Montana-to-Steve Young-esque transition. With Salonen frequently equalling (and, in his willingness to take risks, outpacing) his predecessor, it’s thrilling to imagine what he’ll do with Mahler’s second.

A Black man leans against a grand piano
Awadagin Pratt plays Mozart with the Santa Rosa Symphony this October. (Cramer/Marder Artists)

Awadagin Pratt with the Santa Rosa Symphony

Oct. 1–3
Green Music Center, Rohnert Park

Since his appointment in 2018, Santa Rosa Symphony Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong has been an absolute delight on the podium: he explains pieces, he makes jokes; he even once hired an actor to dress up in disguise and wander through the audience. (Long story.) Energetic, affable and serious about using his talent for good, he’s also pushing classical music in all the right directions. This season’s kickoff is a good example, by performing new work (Me he perdido, by Angélica Negrón) as well as inviting a Black pianist as the program's guest soloist (Awadagin Pratt, playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23). In the exquisite main hall of the Green Music Center, this is a program not to miss.

SF Music Day takes place inside the War Memorial Veterans Building, across from City Hall.

SF Music Day

Oct. 9
War Memorial Veterans Building, San Francisco

You simply cannot go wrong with a day of free music experienced by wandering around a historic building. That’s what SF Music Day offers the Bay Area each year at the Herbst Theatre and various surrounding spaces inside the War Memorial Veterans Building, across from City Hall. From noon to 7pm, visitors can drop in on classical, jazz, blues, Greek, chamber music, brass music and experimental sets from 27 different groups. It’s perfect for bringing kids or visitors from out of town.

A CHinese woman in a red dress, backlit through a window
Ying Fang performs in recital on Nov. 6 in Berkeley. (Dario Acosta)

Ying Fang

Nov. 6
Hertz Hall, Berkeley

The Chinese-born soprano Ying Fang has had a busy past few years, having appeared on stage as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Pamina in The Magic Flute, and Ännchen in Der Freischütz. Add to that her appearances in Mahler's symphonies No. 2 and 8 at the Mahler Festival in Leipzig, and it's clear that a rising star is on her way to Berkeley. At Hertz Hall, her much-anticipated recital includes songs by Mahler, Richard Strauss, Schubert, Schumann and others, with piano accompaniment by Ken Noda.

a Black man in a suit jacket plays the trumpet in a dimly lit club
Keyon Harrold performs Nov. 18 at the Black Cat in San Francisco. (Courtesy of the artist)

Keyon Harrold

Nov. 17–19
Black Cat, San Francisco

Born and raised in Ferguson, Missouri, Keyon Harrold is no stranger to jazz’s long tradition of incorporating themes of Black equality and racial justice into his music. He’s also no stranger to sharing the stage with stars like Beyoncé, Rihanna and Jay-Z, or hearing his music used in movies like the Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead. Last seen around these parts playing with the rapper Pharoahe Monch at the Blue Note Jazz Festival in Napa, the trumpeter returns for a small-club basement gig at the uber-hip Tenderloin outpost the Black Cat.


Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Santa Rosa Symphony Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong had once dressed in disguise and roamed through the audience. The man was an actor that Lecce-Chong had hired, not Lecce-Chong himself.