With the new SFJazz Center nearing completion, Randall Kline -- founder and executive/artistic director of SFJazz -- talked about his organization's great leap forward.
Q Randall, you've announced your first season of programming -- steady programming -- at the new SFJazz Center. Are you confident that there's enough of a jazz audience in the Bay Area to support your vision?
A I'm not confident about anything. But I think there should be. I think there's an expandable jazz audience. But I also think there's an expandable cultural audience, people who are interested in museums and films and literature. I think they'll come, too. And I want to do something new -- tap the tourist audience, make this place a tourist destination.
Q After 30 years of renting venues, what does it mean to the organization to have its own $63 million concert hall -- right down the block from the San Francisco Symphony?
A It's a "little engine that could" story. How many new cultural institutions are popping up? Not a lot.
It means that we've got a shot at doing something that's really great for culture, great for art. There's more than enough cultural audience in the Bay Area to support this place.
Is there enough jazz audience? Hard to tell. But every time I go to see something that's good, it's full.
Q What about jazz clubs in the area? Is the SFJazz Center good for them? Is Yoshi's
A I don't know.
Q Which of your first-season programs most excites you?
A Bill Frisell's got two incredible ensemble projects, for which he's composed the music. The first is based on Allen Ginsberg's "Kaddish," with Hal Wilner narrating and projections by Ralph Steadman. The second is based on Hunter Thompson's famous piece, "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved," also with visuals by Steadman, and Tim Robbins is probably going to narrate, unless there's a movie he has to do.
I wouldn't say that's made for a jazz audience, though a jazz audience would be great for it. That's a literary audience. That's an art audience.... This is supposed to be an arts center; we're taking that remit seriously. If it works, it can be great. I think it can work.
Q It's pretty amazing that you've landed almost next door to the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera.
A Yeah, but I wouldn't say we're looking to "elevate" jazz, though we would like to get it some consideration. Being part of this corridor of culture is amazing, but it's a bonus. Our original goals were to be close to public transportation and to be in a vibrant neighborhood, and Hayes Valley is as hot as any neighborhood right now. That's our good fortune.
Q Tell me more about your main performance space, the Robert N. Miner Auditorium.
A We can adjust the seating, from about 350 seats to 698, and we can extend the stage. Say we have a big band or a chamber orchestra, or even a full orchestra, we'll extend the stage. Joshua Redman has a new project that involves a chamber orchestra; we may bring it here next June.
But the stage would be smaller for a Salsa band, to create a dance floor in front. Or say Medeski, Martin and Wood are performing; we can have a standing area in front of the stage, like a club. And when we have Dave Holland Week, he'll be playing solo bass his first night. We may have him play down in front of the stage, with people sitting behind him on the stage.
That experience of surrounding the artist -- the amphitheater effect -- has been the driving force for us all along. It's all about intimacy and connection between the artist and the audience.
Q I guess you've taken a crash course in architecture and design.
A The theatrical designers gave me a stack of books when we were getting started, and I just got a little nuts with the research. The team did a tremendous amount of on-the-road research, as well, in Europe, in New York. And we didn't just look at theaters. We looked at 18th century meeting halls in New England, places where people gather -- community spaces.
Also, I did many years of informal research with performers -- sitting down and asking them, "What are your favorite places to play, anywhere?"
Q What did they tell you?
A Joe Lovano mentioned this place in Vienne, France, where you can look right into the audience's eyes. A lot of musicians like playing in amphitheaters, European opera houses -- and everyone loves the Village Vanguard.
Q You seem pretty excited about your new home, Randall.
A This is just more than I ever thought it would be.
My wife is always reminding me that this is unbelievable. Like Sunday: I'd been away all week, and we were on our way to the Farmers Market, at the Civic Center, to do some shopping. And we walked past the construction site, and the crews happened to be working. They're working unbelievable shifts to get this thing done.
So my wife came upstairs, looked around, and said, "This is gorgeous." She's always teasing me for my tepid responses to things. And she's right. It's unbelievable.