Wynton Marsalis and the Temple of Jazz; American's Own Art Form Finally Gets a Prestigious Permanent Manhattan Address. It's about Time

Newsweek, October 18, 2004 | Go to article overview

Wynton Marsalis and the Temple of Jazz; American's Own Art Form Finally Gets a Prestigious Permanent Manhattan Address. It's about Time


Byline: Malcolm Jones

Wynton Marsalis is scheduled to do an interview about Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center's $128 million new permanent home and performance space. But the interview can't get started because Marsalis, who has been JLC's artistic director since its founding in 1991, can't stop staring at the temporary stage in the Allen Room, one of Rose Hall's three sumptuous theaters. The stage that's bugging Marsalis is a modular thing on little aluminum legs. You can add or subtract pieces from it, and it's obvious that Marsalis would like to subtract. Ask anyone involved with JLC: Marsalis doesn't like stages, doesn't like being above the audience, likes to perform in the round, and on and on. There is almost nothing about this place that he hasn't put his stamp on, right down to the freight elevator, which is decorated with a scrap of the score from one of his compositions, "All Rise." He seems flustered for a second when he can't tell what kind of wood is used in the Allen Room's floor, but then he looks straight at you and says, "But I know exactly what it cost." Would JLC even have this new home if it weren't for Marsalis? Managing to be both tactful and accurate, he gives a little smile and says, "Eventually."

It's taken long enough already for America's greatest indigenous art form, usually consigned to smoky clubs and raw downtown lofts, to take its place uptown alongside opera, dance and classical music. As Rafael Vinoly, the project's architect, points out, "This is much more than just a permanent address for jazz. This building is an excuse for something important to happen, for people to realize just how intrinsic to the culture jazz is." Jazz record sales may be stagnant, its audience no bigger than that for classical music. But the JLC staff is determined to use its new home to show New York and the rest of America what it's been missing. And you will be hard-pressed to find anyone in the jazz community, from musicians to club owners to critics, who won't give Marsalis most of the credit for ramrodding JLC's struggle to build its own home. The jazz composer and clarinetist Don Byron takes it a step further: "We've got the Philharmonic, the various opera and ballet orchestras, none of whom have even 25 percent African-American participation. And none of them have a music director who's African-American. In a major city, this is the only legitimate gig that's run by a leader who's black, so how bad is that?" He pauses. "Now the fact that it's in the middle of a mall, that's kind of weird."

JLC's Rose Hall is actually several blocks south of Lincoln Center--which has been running out of space for years--lodged in the new Time Warner Center at New York City's Columbus Circle, cheek to cheek with--yes--an urban mall housing Williams-Sonoma, Borders and assorted high-end restaurants. The site's developers were required by the city to earmark a portion of the building for public use, but it was the then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who insisted that the space be given to JLC in 1998. The new facility has ample classroom space, one of the biggest and best recording studios in the city and the exquisite Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame, designed by the architect David Rockwell. And on Oct. 18, when the opening-night crowds sit down to hear the JLC Orchestra in the Rose Theater, or the JLC Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra in the Allen Room, or Tony Bennett in Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, they will be hearing jazz as it has never been heard before. …

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