SF JAZZ Center Breaks Ground

 

Improvisational legends and SF
JAZZ donors brave the elements in San
Francisco groundbreaking for new concert hall.

 

By Jud
Cost / Photos by Jenifer Cost

 

Surrounded
by tons of smashed concrete, twisted girders, broken brick and the heavy
machinery that demolished the two auto body shops that once stood here, an
oasis of sanity, fenced off from the industrial rubble, has attracted about 100
invited guests for a much-anticipated celebration at 4:00 in the afternoon.
It’s the May 17 groundbreaking ceremony for the SF JAZZ Center, a
state-of-the-art, 700-seat permanent home for San Francisco’s
wildly successful jazz festival to be erected in the Hayes Valley
neighborhood at the corner of Fell and Franklin Streets. Of the $60 million
needed for the project’s completion, $46 million is now in the bank.

 

 

Just as
another round of late-spring rain begins to fall, San Francisco’s Bourbon Kings
Brass Band (pictured above, who,
unlike Tony Bennett, left their heart in old New Orleans) begin to wail on a Crescent
City-style trad number. It doesn’t take long for the nine-piece outfit – two
tenor saxes, two trombones, a trumpet, a cornet, a tuba, a snare drum and a bass
drum-to switch gears and dig into Sonny Rollins’ post-bop classic
“Oleo.” The crowd, as instructed, has brought festive, brightly
colored umbrellas and a few Mardi Gras beads to twirl and shake at the Bourbon
Kings as they high-step it through the mud puddles as if they were marching
down South Rampart Street.

 

The foul
weather this afternoon has no effect on the beaming Srinija Srinivasan, current
chair of the SF JAZZ board of directors. “This will be the first structure
of its kind anywhere in the country, a stand-alone facility dedicated
specifically to jazz,” she says. “When Randall spoke to the board
about finally getting construction under way, he was literally moved to tears.
We’ve all been working on this for so long. But Randall is the one with the
persistence, almost the damn craziness, to pull it off.”

 

 

“Randall”
is SF JAZZ’s Executive Artistic Director Randall Kline (pictured above, with the author), the man whose missionary zeal and passion for what has been called
“America’s
greatest cultural achievement” founded this non-profit jazz festival in
1983. SF Jazz today, with a spring and a fall season that almost overlap,
embraces all facets of creative, improvisational music in over 100 concerts a
year. From the rhythm & blues of Solomon Burke, the Portuguese fado of Ana
Moura and the tropicalia of Caetano Veloso, to the classic raga of Ravi
Shankar, the  country gems of Rosanne
Cash and the bossa nova of Joao Gilberto, SF JAZZ has something for every
taste.

 

Of
course, the surviving heroes from jazz’s golden age abound here, as well:
Herbie Hancock, Jim Hall, Ahmad Jamal, Archie Shepp, Etta James, Pharoah
Sanders, Randy Weston, Cecil Taylor, Dave Brubeck, Kenny Burrell, Lee Konitz,
Keith Jarrett and McCoy Tyner, along with the Rushmore-like icons of Ornette
Coleman and Sonny Rollins have all played the festival in recent years.

 

Up until
now, SF JAZZ has used multiple venues spread throughout the City: Herbst
Theatre, the Masonic Auditorium, Davies Symphony Hall, the Palace of Fine Arts
and many others. With its permanent home to be completed by  the fall of 2012, scheduling the mammoth
event should become somewhat easier.

 

SF JAZZ
membership director Barrett Shaver foresees the new facility as having a broad,
inclusive policy towards its use. “We want this place to be open year-round,
every night if possible,” he says. Randall Kline agrees heartily,
envisioning artists being able to spend three or four nights in the Mark
Cavagnero-designed showplace rather than play a one-nighter in a larger hall.
“Without the musicians, none of this would be possible,” adds Kline,
almost drowned out by an emergency police siren. “If Ornette Coleman wants
to play here for a month – great!”

 

 

Legendary
vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson (above,
with family members)
speaks movingly to the crowd, jammed together even
tighter under a plastic marquee as the rain gets heavier. “I remember so
many things: playing the Jazz Workshop in North Beach
and the Both/And on Divisadero, where I first met my wife, selling tickets
there at the time. I had just come from New
York and thought I was big stuff, but she’d never
heard of me. When I played Keystone Korner in North Beach,
opening for (stand-up comedian) Professor Irwin Corey, he said to the crowd,
‘Who’s Bobby Hutcherson?’ And my young son piped up and said, ‘He’s my
Dad.'”

 

John
Handy (pictured below),  a mainstay of the Bay Area jazz scene even
before his potent alto sax first swapped titanic passages with tenor saxman
Booker Ervin in Charles Mingus’ landmark band more than 50 years ago, is
visibly moved afterwards at the prospect of a permanent home for SF JAZZ.
“It’s going to be amazing what will take place here,” he says.
“And remember, remember… this is all happening right here-in America.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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