The SFJazz Center is generating plenty of buzz: The $64 million venue, filled with bells and whistles, is a new type of hybrid setting for jazz that merges club and concert hall. That's the intention. We'll see how it all works out when the hall opens: Monday is a day of free public tours. On Wednesday, Bill Cosby hosts a sold-out, star-studded opening concert.
San Francisco-based Mark Cavagnero, the hall's architect, admits to some nervousness as the opening events approach. How will the public respond? I spoke with Cavagnero, a jazz fan, about the hall, its history and his hopes for it.
Q When you enter a project like this, what's your basic goal?
A You hope to create a space that
Q I suppose you're hoping it pulls in a new audience -- grows the jazz audience?
A Yes, the leadership is worried that the current audience, in its 20s and 30s, isn't going out to hear live music as much and is not as enamored by the art form -- they're so into Facebook and social media. So there's the need for SFJazz to reach out to a younger audience. And this project is part of that: enhancing and pushing the art form forward at a time when it is challenged by the new media -- not
Q How did Randall Kline, SFJazz's founder, push you to take on that challenge?
A Randall challenged me in a lot of ways. He loves these tight little music clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn, so we went back there to tour them. And we also went to the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and we went to Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall -- all these upscale performance halls with great acoustics and production values. And then we went to look at these really scratchy clubs, where Randall loved the energy and the vibe: Barbes, the Village Vanguard. And he said, "I want both. I want the intimacy and the energy of a club, and I want the production values and the comfort and the lobby of a hall."
Q How does the design carry that out?
A We were trying to get the performers out into the audience and everyone engaged. So the seating is about as steeply raked as you can comfortably make it, and you have these much shorter sight lines than usual. You really are looking across the stage -- a modified thrust stage -- and seeing people who are swaying and moving to the music on the other side. It's like sitting in a little amphitheater. It's not like anything I've ever worked on. We built our own model from the ground up. And as Randall would talk about it, I would get really excited: How can we give form to what this guy wants?
Q He's very taken with the fact that you have glass walls on three sides of the building. People on the street can look inside, watch rehearsals, even see the stage.
A The idea was that if you make it sexy, open, transparent -- if you get rid of that threshold -- then a 25-year-old walking down the street has absolutely no hesitation to come in, walk through, have a cup of coffee in the cafe and maybe even see a jazz concert for the first time.
Randall and I would have coffee and breakfast regularly to talk about these things. And I've told Randall that's something I'm going to miss -- having our coffee and theorizing about what the next level of development ... is going to be.
Q Now that the opening is finally about to happen, how nervous are you feeling?
A I'm very nervous. I'm like this at the end of all my projects. This thing has been in my head now for at least five years, and in my head it's all making sense. That said, at this point I have no objectivity about whether anyone else will like it or find it appealing or love it or hate it. I have no idea! It's nerve-wracking.
Q Are you a jazz fan? If so, who are your favorites?
A Yes. I still go back to John Coltrane. He was the person who got me into it. Just this morning I was listening to "A Love Supreme" for the thousandth time. I'm also into Miles, Mingus, Monk. Freddie Hubbard. Lee Morgan. I like the new players, too, but those are my guys.
SFJazz Center opening events
When: Monday, ribbon cutting 11:30 a.m., free public tours 12:45 p.m.-6:30 p.m. (tour reservations required; www.sfjazz.org/grandopening)
Concerts: Wednesday opener and Thursday concert are sold out; tickets remain for Friday-Sunday and the rest of the season
Where: 201 Franklin St. (at Fell), San Francisco
Tickets: Generally $5-$85, depending on event; 866-920-5299, www.sfjazz.org