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SFJAZZ Building to Make a Big Splash on Music Scene

September 17, 2012

Architect's rendering of the exterior SFJAZZ BuildingAt a press conference and construction-site tour this week, the introduction of the SFJAZZ Center impressed, in many ways.

The $53 million, 700-seat, 35,000-square-foot facility, scheduled to open on Jan. 21 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), will be the country’s first major dedicated jazz performance facility. (Watch construction on a time-lapse video.) An open house of free events, with tours for the public, will follow the dedication of the building.

Beginning with a star-studded opening gala on Jan. 23, the center will serve as home to jazz, replacing “a variety of rented venues throughout the Bay Area,” says Executive Director Randall Kline.

The significance of the building — at Franklin and Fell streets, in the immediate vicinity of Davies Symphony Hall, the War Memorial Veterans Building, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music — goes far beyond its serving the genre only. Just three months after the center’s opening, Herbst Theatre and the Green Room will close for two years as the War Memorial Building undergoes a major seismic retrofit and renovation, leaving many performing-arts organizations homeless.The significance of the building … goes far beyond its serving the genre only.

Asked about rental plans, SFJAZZ Executive Operations Director Felice Swapp said the facility will be shared with other organizations, as the schedule calls mostly for concerts Thursday through Sunday, so the hall will be available three days a week and on some weekends.

Mark Cavagnero’s architecture, Len Auerbach’s theater design, and Sam Berkow’s acoustic design provide for a flexible reconfiguration of the Robert N. Miner Auditorium from 700 to 300 seats, making it an appropriate setting for various performances, including chamber music, one of Herbst’s major functions.

Regina Carter will curate a four-concert series It was a distinguished team that created SFJAZZ Center. Among Cavagnero’s recent projects, for instance, are the Oakland Museum of California, ODC Theater Center, and East Bay Center for the Performing Arts.

Auerbach, meanwhile, is responsible for the design and renovation, respectively, of Berkeley Rep’s two theaters, the Atlanta Symphony Hall, Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, and the Salt Lake City Conference Center, as well as projects in Cyprus, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, and elsewhere. Berkow’s work includes Jazz at Lincoln Center and renovation of the Hollywood Bowl and the Grand Ole Opry.

The unusual building features glass outer walls, allowing visibility from the street of lobbies, rehearsal rooms, and performances spaces. Facilities include an 80-seat multipurpose ensemble room, rehearsal spaces, a digital lab, a cafe, a retail shop, a box office, and SFJAZZ administrative offices.

The gala MC will be Bill Cosby, with performers to include McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Esperanza Spalding, Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman, Bobby Hutcherson, Mary Stallings, Rebeca Mauleón, the SFJAZZ Collective, and others.“Every aspect of the design of the center was purposefully and thoughtfully planned to invite people into the venue.” – publisher Todd Vogt

The first week of performances is devoted to local artists. The lineup for the second week’s program, called “Jazz in the City,” includes Paula West, Kim Nalley, Jamie Davis, Dan Hicks, Rebeca Mauleón & Afro Kuban Fusion, Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, and the Hot Club of S.F.’s ensemble Le Jazz Hot.

Randall Kline and Mark Cavagnero show off the building Photos by Janos GerebenThere follows a distinguished lineup of singers (Ana Moura, Meklit Hadero, Patricia Barber) and the music of Weimar Germany, as performed by Ute Lemper, Max Raabe’s Palast Orchester, and San Francisco’s Club Foot Orchestra, performing at a screening of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis.

Coming up in the spring: percussionist Zakir Hussain, conga player Giovanni Hidalgo, jazz drummer Eric Harland, jazz-rocker Steve Smith, bassist Edgar Meyer, banjoist Bela Fleck, and many internationally acclaimed musicians.

Dave Holland will be in residence for four nights, solo, with his Quintet, with Kenny Barron, and at the premiere of his new project, Prism.

Executive Operations Director Felice Swapp Bill Frisell, Regina Carter, and Miguel Zenón will appear, with Frisell presenting Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish and Hunter S. Thompson’s The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved. Carter will curate four nights of tributes to her southern roots and musical heritage.

Impressively, fundraising has covered almost the entire cost of the center, with contributions still solicited to fill the gap and to pay for setting up audiovisual facilities. During the press conference, Kline received news of a $100,000 in-kind advertising donation from the S.F. Examiner and S.F. Bay Guardian.

Said Todd Vogt, publisher of the two newspapers: “As a jazz lover and someone who lives in the city, I see the new SFJAZZ Center as an incredible addition to the already vibrant arts community. Every aspect of the design of the center was purposefully and thoughtfully planned to invite people into the venue.”

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].