On its 30th anniversary, SFJazz gambles on a 700-seat, $63 million concert hall and HQ. Can it re-energize a San Francisco scene?
The Bay Area bred percussionist will also be premiering his own Filosofia Caribena II, which refers to Caribbean philosophies and traditions — those that have informed his entire body of work. "[It] blends all the experiences of Black American music with Caribbean traditions, and it goes into the whole socio-political aspect of how the music really represents resistance and the identity of a whole group of people that identify culturally, even though we don't live in Cuba or Puerto Rico, but we certainly grew up in and maintained those traditions."
Adding, "Jazz was born in that environment, in New Orleans, in the Caribbean community. We're making those connections between jazz and the Caribbean roots."
Frisell's batch of shows, beginning April 18, will include multimedia pieces with projections and orchestras, readings of Allen Ginsber's Kaddish, and Hunter S. Thompson's The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved (the latter of which is rumored to be narrated by Tim Robbins).
Moran's residency likely represents the scope of the auditorium's versatility best: he'll open with a solo acoustic piano night (May 2), followed by a "Fats Waller Dance Party" with Meshell Ndegeocello that utilizes the dance-floor, then break out the inspired, possibly nutty, concept of a skateboarding jazz piece. There will be an actual half-pipe on the lower level of the room — seats pushed back — with professional skateboarders riding back and forth in the curved structure to Moran's musical accompaniment.
It'll be one of many configurations for that striking room. The specifics of the auditorium were big challenges for architect Cavagnero — the acoustics, the balance of sound (such as making sure solo piano and thundering skateboarding dips both fill the space equally), isolating street noise, creating those excellent sight lines from every angle.
"The idea of the building was to make the big concrete room the sacred space for music, the focus space," says Cavagnero, walking up the stairs in the building's glass-encased entryway. "That was going to be the closed, sacred space, [and] everything else would wrap around it and be as open and public as we could make it."
To that end, the rest of the building has floor-to-ceiling glass, and the staircase has no columns supporting it, just thin titanium rods that double as the guardrail. The second floor has bars on either ends and terraces with glass doors that fully open, along with tiled murals representing the history of jazz in the city, with long-gone clubs painted throughout.
It's clear that this building is meant to be more than a standard music venue, the goal is to be an institution.
"So, if the paradigm is: clubs are harder to run and have live music, well, if we could have the same kind of vibrant music in an institution that supported that kind of thing, to build up a community of people that cared about that kind of thing — which is the gamble I guess we're making here in this building — we can build it for the jazz community," says Kline. "[The goal is to have] a great place to hang out and hear live music, where new artists can grow and premiere, and be nurtured."
And it is hard to run live jazz venues in the city. Nearing the end of 2012, the owners of Oakland's Yoshi's filed for involuntary bankruptcy to put its San Francisco location in Chapter 11 if it couldn't meet an agreement with its partners, the Rrazz Room switched venues under a cloud of controversy stemming from an allegedly racist former manager of its then-location, and Savanna Jazz had to fight off foreclosure.
"We have not seen an increased interest for the art form [recently] primarily because the economy is down significantly and the arts are usually the first to suffer," says Savanna Jazz co-owner Pascal Bokar.
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