Jazz aficionados have made pilgrimages from around the world for performances at SFJAZZ, the 30-year-old San Francisco-based music company. Until this week, however, they never knew quite where they’d find it as it staged shows at a variety of venues.
Now, thanks to years of serious fundraising and planning, the group, which presents over 100 shows a year and was called “a crown jewel among American jazz festivals” by the Chicago Tribune, has a space of its own. On Jan. 23, SFJAZZ’s new, 35,000-square-foot home—said to be the largest standalone jazz center in the U.S.—opened with a concert and Billy Cosby-hosted gala celebration. Founder and executive artistic director Randall Kline says it’s about time.
“We were founded in 1983 with a thousand-dollar budget,” Kline says. “We started off as a small, community-based festival and, via some fits and starts, began to grow rapidly.”
Soon, the spaces SFJAZZ was borrowing from other institutions began to seem too small. But building a new space in an expensive city was not a small proposition.
“When we became an organization working with a budget of $2 or $3 million, that’s when we started looking into having a home of our own,” Kline says. “We put together a plan in 1998 that identified constructing a facility as a project to consider, and we started pursuing it. We had no money, just some pretty strong ideas about what a building should be.”
And they’ve got it. The new space contains a performance hall (with many moveable elements), a public lobby, retail space, a restaurant and bar, see-through walls that allow passers-by to peek in, and plenty more.
“The venue is complicated, it’s eclectic,” says Mark Cavagnero, the project’s architect. “The room needs to accommodate a wide variety of music. To that end, we can also change the audience; there are all kind of options.”
He’s talking about adjustable risers, projection options and removable walls that allow the venue’s performance space to become whatever it needs to be. Fans will be able to see that in action as the first weeks of performances will include everything from piano concerts to skateboarding demonstrations with musical accompaniment.
“It’s experiential, like jazz itself,” Cavagnero says of the new space. “No two nights there will be identical.”