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Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall

By Published: October 10, 2004

Jazz at Lincoln Center is a relatively young institution. —Todd Barkan, Musical Director, Jazz@Lincoln Center

When Jazz at Lincoln Center opens the doors to the Frederick P. Rose Hall this month it will welcome the jazz community to an impressive state of the art facility representing the greatest commitment of resources, both human and financial, to the presentation and preservation of the art of jazz in the music's hundred-year-old history. Located inside the Time Warner Building on Columbus Circle, with its marquee prominently proclaiming its place in polite society from the corner of Broadway and 60th Street, Rose Hall boldly beckons New York City citizens and visitors to enter a venue that will strive to bring jazz to the people in a manner commensurate with its sophistication, without sacrificing the humanity that is the music's heart and soul.

The 100,000 square foot hall, a multipurpose facility featuring three uniquely different performance spaces, as well as a large rehearsal room/recording studio, several classrooms and a gallery/museum, was designed by the internationally-famed architect Rafael Vinoly, but will undoubtedly (and somewhat justifiably) come to be known as the "house that Wynton built". Marsalis calls the hall "the house of swing". He proclaims, "The concept is a complete integration of all forces. The atrium is going to be a hall; everything is a hall. It's all resonant and it's all swinging". This concept of complete integration is extended so far as to even include the facility's freight elevator, the white walls of which have been decorated by one of its operator's with a panoply of hand painted representations of a veritable orchestra of jazz instrumentalists and are further adorned with an already-impressive number of autographs by visitors - from Ornette Coleman to Taj Mahal.

The Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame in the atrium welcomes visitors to the hall. The miniature museum, which will to be open to the general public free of charge everyday, is a multimedia installation designed by the renowned architecture firm the Rockwell Group, with interactive kiosks, audio components and projection screens providing guests with an easily accessible glimpse into the music's rich history. Incorporating materials and shapes "that evoke musical instruments, sound, still and video images and lighting that adjust in intensity and colorï the space strives to achieve the spirit of improvisation", in the word's of one publicist.

One flight up, in the Irene Diamond Education Center, there are lecture halls where the well known Jazz Talks series will continue, as well as classrooms where Phil Schaap, Michael Phillip Mossman and other members of the very knowledgeable Jazz at Lincoln Center teaching staff will instruct students, both young and old, in general and in-depth courses on jazz and its creators, sustaining the organization's fierce commitment to education. Derek Gordon, J@LC's newly appointed Executive Director affirms, "Education is essential to what we do" and expresses a strong desire to continue expanding the scope of organization's educational programs which he calls "truly exceptional in quality".

The Rose Theater will essentially replace Alice Tully Hall as the site of J@LC 's concert series, but will be more versatile than the Lincoln Center hall, which has served Marsalis and company well despite the fact it was designed specifically for classical music. J@LC's artistic administrator Todd Barkan notes, "There's a big difference between Tully and Rose. It's more intimate, it's more organic. The seats are more a part of the oeuvre of the presentation. They're integrated into the entire schematic much better.

Speaking of the "old" Lincoln Center, Wynton notes, "Nothing here was designed for the sound, function and feeling of jazz ï Most concert halls are designed for symphonic music, not jazz. Most of the time we play in halls that have too much echo for our music. The tail of the echo is so long that it makes the music muddy. We have drums playing all the time, which is not the case in symphonic music. We have a cymbal ringing all the time in the high register. And the bass is playing all the time in the very low register. It's like a sandwich between these two extreme frequencies. We set out to build a hall where the sound is made for us ï So, the significance of Frederick P. Rose Hall is twofold: It is the first facility (in the world) designed specifically for jazz and it is the home of jazz at America's most important performing arts center".

The Rose Theater is the largest of the Frederick P. Rose Hall's three performance spaces. The room features a retractable ceiling and movable seating banks, allowing it function both as proscenium theater with 1,100 seats and a concert hall seating 1,231 listeners, with variable acoustics that will also be suitable for opera and symphonic music, which will be booked to help defray expenses and integrate the facility with the rest of the arts community. J@LC CEO Hughlyn F. Fierce states, "It is our hope that other Lincoln Center constituents, the dance community and a variety of performing arts organizations will use it, too. If that happens, it will open up the possibility for all kinds of collaborative programming".

The first important multimedia collaboration will take place the first week of November. Jazz In Motion will bring music and dance together on the Rose Theater stage. "We need to deal with all aspects of the music", says Marsalis. "One of those is dancing, from ballet to the lowest forms of popular dance". The program will explore the relationship between the two art forms. Marsalis will premier his piece Welcome (the all encompassing theme of the Rose Hall's first season) with choreography by Peter Martins featuring Charles McPherson a dancer from the New York City Ballet. Another world premiere will feature Marsalis' music and dance by tap visionary Savion Glover and his ensemble.

The Joe Chambers Percussion Ensemble will collaborate with Elizabeth Streb's Action Movement Dance Company with a premier composition The Pit and the Pendulum. Streb's choreography, called "Pop Action", intertwines the disciplines of dance, athletics and gymnastics into a muscle and motion vocabulary that combines daring and strict precision. Chambers describes the accompanying compositions as "challenging" to complete and mold into a "unified" and "integrated" work and promises that "The Pit and the Pendulum" will be percussive, electronic and "quick moving", correlating with the athletic "dance action" of the choreography.

Another collaboration will join spoken word with the music of jazz in Let Freedom Swing, which will feature historic human rights speeches by Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy, Vaclav Havel and others set to newly commissioned music by Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Heath, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Darius Brubeck. Other concerts at Rose will highlight more conventional, but equally impressive groupings, including nights that will combine the artistry of Tony Bennett and Cassandra Wilson; Freddie Cole and Diane Reeves; Taj Mahal and Randy Weston; the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with the Boys Choir of Harlem; and the AfroLatin Jazz Orchestra with Claudia Acuňa and Graciela.

The most impressive of the new venues is the Allen Room, a versatile three-quarters arena that overlooks Columbus Circle and the southern end of Central Park through a 70-foot floor to ceiling glass wall that provides the breathtaking views before which bands will perform. Shaped like an amphitheater that wraps the audience around a spacious dance floor in front of the bandstand, the room can accommodate from 300 and 600 people in a variety of configurations (utilizing angled terrace seating, bleachers and movable chairs) intended to blur the distinction between where the band ends and the audience begins, inviting them to participate in an setting that recalls the atmosphere of classic jazz age nightspots like the Copacabana and Cotton Club. The room will be the perfect setting for the new Great American Songwriters series, which will open with the Bill Charlap Trio with Sandy Stewart and Ernie Andrews. Other concerts will feature Kurt Elling and Luciana Souza and Rene Marie and Bill Henderson. There will also be concerts with the Lincoln Center orchestras designed to get the listeners out of their comfortable seats and bring them out onto the dance floor.

The "anchor" of Rose Hall and perhaps its most important component, is ironically the smallest of the three performance spaces. Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, across the atrium from the Allen Room, is a 140 seat intimate jazz club with sympathetically designed ambience with a view of the Park and acoustics that will present jazz 365 nights a year. Todd Barkan, Wynton's collaborator for the past three and a half years in the musical direction of J@LC's concert series, will manage the new room. He asserts, "What Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola is all about is making people (the musicians and audience) feel comfortable — both physically and spiritually comfortable. Through the quality and grace of the music and the quality and grace of the vibe".

Barkan, onetime owner of the world famous Keystone Korner and a regular habituï of many other great jazz spots, is well aware of how vital both aspects are to the success of a place and is devoting himself to making Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola the best jazz club in the world, beginning with the music that will be heard there. The room will receive its public baptism Monday October 18 with a Live From Lincoln Center PBS television broadcast with the Bill Charlap Trio and special guests, followed by its first extended booking which will be a three-week long tribute to the club's namesake with programs devoted to Gillespie's small band, Latin and big band repertoires respectively, featuring Nicholas Payton and Charles McPherson, Paquito D' Rivera and the Julliard Jazz Orchestra with Carla Cook.

Future acts include George Coleman and Eric Alexander, David Fathead Newman, Marcus Roberts, Cyrus Chestnut with Frank Morgan, Eric Reed and Mulgrew Miller with Gary Bartz. Weeks with Diego Maroto Sextet and Antonio Sanchez and Gonzalo Rubalcaba reflects the rooms international vision and a Monday night Jazz Stars of Tomorrow series featuring bands from Julliard, The New School and other college and high school jazz programs is in keeping with J@LC's dedication to jazz education. A late night set featuring duos (beginning with John Hicks) will attempt to make Dizzy's a regular hangout for the jazz community, hoping revive the sense of camaraderie that once thrived in places like Greenwich Village's Bradley's where many musicians unwound after a night of performing in the city's other clubs.

Barkan admits that the overall mission of is a challenging one. Getting listeners to buy the most expensive ($150) tickets to see real jazz artists in the larger rooms may be difficult. He says, "There are going to be challenges, like with anything. I think we're going to put asses in the seats and think we're going to do a damn good job of it". Asked how he thinks the high top ticket prices will affect audiences he replies, "I don't really know and that's kind of outside my domain in general because I'm not setting up the budgets at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I'm not passing the buck, but what I am saying is that that is also one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the universe. And that's what is reflected in those prices. I think everything will get regulated and adjusted over time as soon as the institution itself establishes an endowment, which it does not yet have. The New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan opera and Carnegie Hall all have multigazillion dollar endowments. As does Alvin Ailey, as do numerous other institutions".

Barkan continues, "Jazz at Lincoln Center is a relatively young institution. It is the youngest constituent member of the Lincoln Center family - it's the newest child in the family. It's basically not even ten years old in terms of its constituency at Lincoln Center. As it is, it is still growing. It's still in its adolescence. It has to grow.

Barkan thinks that Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola is perhaps not quite as difficult a sell as of the larger rooms because of the ticket price level. He says, "We need the seventy-six dollar jazz tickets and that's great, but those aren't the rank and file jazz audience for the most part. You know there are some wealthy people who love jazz and without them we wouldn't be able to survive, but it's a combination of that and the rank and file, which is going to make it work ï Our ticket prices at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola are a very reasonable thirty dollars, which is kind of right in the middle range of what's going on in this town", he says. "Thirty is average. The people we have playing, they're thirty-dollar acts. And we will try to have it even lower than that at times. We're really, really attuned to trying to bring the music to as many people as we can. So that work is just starting. It's going to be a reaching out process that will be quite mind-boggling and soul tingling, but it's going to take time". He does admit that the $30 regular cover at Dizzy's is still steep for many jazz fans. He hopes the $10 music charge for late night set and the $15 one on Mondays will help bring in younger listeners and those with more modest incomes and make them feel like part of the communal constituency he hopes to build around the club.

The controversy and criticism that has continuously inundated Jazz at Lincoln Center throughout its short history will likely follow the organization to its new headquarters on Columbus Circle. Allegations of conservatism and cronyism in the programming are apt to be leveled at the high profile target - there is little inclusion of the "avant-garde" (old or new) in the present schedule and much representation of musicians with current or former associations with Marsalis' bands. Declarations of snobbery and elitism are bound to be provoked by what many consider a continuing narrowness in the organization's vision, as well as a detachment from the economic realities that will prevent many listeners from participating in the much of the music. The multi-million corporate sponsorship of conglomerates like Coca-Cola will surely offend the sensibilities of many who still see jazz as a revolutionary music that thrives most when it is hungry and living on the fringe. Jazz at Lincoln Center seems to be doing it's best to move the music from that place on the periphery of society and bring it to where Marsalis feels it rightfully belongs - at the center of American popular culture. It remains to be seen how well the organization's new home will help the music in general come closer to reaching that goal, but it's hard to imagine that Frederick P. Rose Hall will play anything but a very important role in the future of jazz in New York City and the world.


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