Saturday, May 3, 2014

Wynton Marsalis and Jazz At Lincoln Center

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Jazz fans are a contentious lot.

They are always arguing about something: which style of Jazz is best?; who is the better piano player, bassist or drummer?; who should be granted a place in the Downbeat magazine Jazz Musician Hall of Fame or awarded a Grammy?; are Free Jazz, Jazz-Rock Fusion and Jazz performed on electronic instruments [think synthesizers] just so much noise or are they new and different ways to create the music?

These debates are as endless as they are endlessly boring.

Why choose, rate or rank? Enjoy all the aspects of the music that appeal to you and allow others the freedom to do the same. How can art be competitive?

For reasons which I will not go into here for fear of reopening and perpetuating the dialogue, one thing that is irrefutable in Jazz circles is that the mere mention of Wynton Marsalis’ name is enough to set off a debate that can reach incendiary proportions.

But, at the same time, as is explained in the following article from the April 26th edition of The Economist magazine, what is also incontestable is Wynton’s ability to raise money for Jazz.

Unquestionably, in the hundred years or so of Jazz’s existence, no one has ever done it better.

© -The Economist, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Jazz at Lincoln Center

Riff on the world

Building Wynton Marsalis's house of swing into a global brand

“FOR decades, jazz-club owners looked at their more well-heeled cousins in other genres with envy. Unlike metropolitan orchestras or opera houses, jazz groups usually lacked a steady home or grand performance space and a foundation of patrons to help them thrive. The art form that was rooted in the blues and folk music of African slaves in America was often performed in smoky basement joints. Fans paid a modest cover charge or nothing at all to hear music, and the musicians often took home a pittance as their reward for a hard night's work.

Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC), launched in 1987 as a concert series in New York, shattered that stereotype. In 1998 it was allocated 100,000 square feet (9,209 square metres) of space in the Time Warner Center in Manhattan's pricey Columbus Circle area. The organisation raised $i3im to build three state-of-the-art venues with virtually perfect acoustics that could accommodate a trio, a big band or a large ensemble.

When it opened in 2004, the centre's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola and what is now called the Appel Room won praise for the romantic, postcard-like views of Central Park and New York's skyline. The "House of Swing", as Wynton Marsalis, a great jazz trumpeter, calls the space, provides him with a dream job. As managing and artistic director, he evangelises about jazz's importance to children and adults alike, while curating concert series and leading the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra.

Today, ten years after moving into its new home (and against considerable odds), JALC has created a template for building a thriving cultural institution for jazz. The annual budget has grown from $10.5 million to about $48 million for the year ending in June. Much of that is covered by corporations, private donors and board members, many of whom work on Wall Street. And it lures big cheque-writers with finesse. Helen Appel and her husband, Robert, who is JALC'S chairman, gave $20 million this year, the largest gift in the institution's history. Its success has inspired imitators such as the San Francisco-based SFJAZZ, which last year opened the largest free-standing performing-arts building for a jazz organisation in America.

Making the transition from a concert programme to a music centre was a struggle for the board, which was led in the early days by a determined and able record executive, Lisa Schiff. It had to train dozens of people to operate its three venues and an accompanying restaurant. And it needed to build a base of loyal donors and corporate sponsors who were more used to supporting New York's world-class museums and established performing-arts spaces. Mr Marsalis came to Ms Schiff's aid and added corporate pitchman to his duties. He helped lure local sponsors such as Samsung Electronics, Coca-Cola and Bank of America. Attracted by JALC'S reputation for cool, wealthy individual donors began stepping up to the plate. Agnes Varis, a former managing director of the Metropolitan Opera and a fan of Mr Marsalis, made a $3 million unrestricted gift in 2010, the year before she died.

With its growing pains behind it, Mr Marsalis and the executive director, Greg Scholl, now want to turn JALC into a global brand, something no traditional jazz centre has achieved. Mr Marsalis is keen to help jazz evolve from its traditional small, dark and smoky character, and create an international following that will help expand the art form's musical vocabulary. In 2012 it set up a venue at the St Regis Doha in Qatar and enlisted Dominick Farinacci, an emerging American trumpeter, as its "brand" ambassador. A similar plan is in the works to establish an outpost in Shanghai. On June 3Oth Mr Marsalis and the JALC orchestra will perform at the Barbican in London with the Sachal Jazz Ensemble from Pakistan, a genre-blending group that recently created a stir on YouTube with its renditions of Dave Brubeck's standard, "Take Five", and REM'S "Everybody Hurts". Taking JALC global will require more donations. It is a safe bet that Mr Marsalis is already plotting how to use his trumpet, passion and charm to draw them in.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.