Friday, January 18, 2013

The SFJAZZ Center 2: The Builders

Wednesday morning there was a press preview at the new SFJAZZ Center, with SF Chronicle writer Spud Hilton above left being shown around the second-floor performer dressing room areas by publicist Marhsall Lamm.

A panel discussion among the designers, builders and visionaries was held on the auditorium's stage. It was moderated by SFJAZZ Executive Operating Director Felice Swapp above and proved to be unexpectedly moving and entertaining.

This was because (from left to right above) the architect Mark Cavagnero, the theatre designer Len Auerbach, and the acoustician Sam Berkow were so obviously proud of their collaboration and the results.

One of them explained, "I usually ask clients what they want in terms of car analogies. A Ferrari, a VW van, a family station wagon? Who is this for and what do you want? Of course, the answer from Randall Kline (below), whose vision this has been for the last 30 years, was ALL OF THEM!" Cavagnero mentioned that even though the entire process had been very challenging, in terms of space, budget and schedule, Kline had also been a dream client because he was open to anything and everything, starting with architectural ideas from various Unitarian and Quaker churches across the country.

Kline interrupted with, "You know I wanted it to be mostly a Ferrari!" before giving an emotional account of how the small, itinerant jazz festival he had co-created had grown over the last 30 years into a thriving institution with its own permanent building.

They discussed the fine details of acoustic decisions and how it related to the architectural decisions, along with how the chairs were fabricated in Finland by specialists who could create curved seats with comfortable upholstery. "We didn't want them too plush," Kline explained, "we wanted people up in their seats with energy. Also, they needed to have cup holders so people could bring in drinks and be relaxed, and they also needed to be easily removable so the stage can be enlarged or the main floor can be used for dancing."

Percussionist John Santos above gave an eloquent speech about the sacred nature of the space, and how it needed to be fueled by the various communities it was serving, many of whom don't usually make it to the Performing Arts Center neighborhood. Santos is one of the five Resident Artistic Directors this year for SFJAZZ in the Center's debut year, along with Regina Carter, Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, and Miguel Zenon.

Santos mentioned how jazz artists are used to crappy sound systems and layouts in various clubs, so that this space was going to be an acoustical dream come true. He was joined by a quartet of other musicians for a short concert, and we were encouraged to wander around the entire theater, checking out the sound from different locations while they played.

In a word, the sound is great, and the huge banks of speakers were subtle in their ability to make the audio even in every nook of the auditorium, including the two balcony rows with their swivel chairs above.

Also on the panel was celebrity chef Charles Phan of Slanted Door fame above. He's putting away his Vietnamese spring rolls for a bit and is creating a bar/cafe called South, specializing in cocktails and New Orleans influenced bar food (photo of the space on Fell Street is below). "I wanted to start with breakfast, but then had to figure out how to transform a Southern cafe to a fast-paced bar and dinner restaurant serving people quickly before a performance in a limited space. It's been quite a challenge."

Phan looked genuinely thrilled to be part of the SFJAZZ Center, and talked about coming to San Francisco as a busboy in the 1970s from Vietnam via Guam. His tale highlighted the fact that, other than the New York based Berkow, all these celebrated architects, designers and artists, with projects around the world, were actually based in San Francisco. That hire local ethos is unusual for most local cultural institutions, and probably contributes to the very good energy the SFJAZZ Center projects.


Axel Feldheim said...

Nice report on the new venue. Looks like a real jewel. I like those movie theater cup holders. But will they hold a highball glass securely, or will I have to stick to martinis?

Civic Center said...

Dear Axel: Good questions, and once I have experienced the hall in concert with cocktail in hand, I'll get you the answers.