SFJAZZ Center Prepares for Grand Opening

Our valley will soon be coming alive with the sound of music — jazz music, that is.

The SFJAZZ Center (201 Franklin), that ongoing construction project that's been taking place at the corner of Franklin and Fell since May 2011, will finally be completed in just 41 days — on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 21, 2013), to be precise. The Center is the first of its kind in America to be dedicated solely to jazz music, which makes its opening that much more special.

Since its formation in 1983, SFJAZZ has been bouncing around San Francisco’s concert venues, including many in Hayes Valley and Civic Center. Our general proximity to the performing arts district and to mass transit made the neighborhood the top contender for its permanent residence.

Last Friday, we were lucky enough to get a tour of the 35,000-square-foot Center designed by local San Francisco architect Mark Cavagnero. Among the tour leaders were SFJAZZ Founder and Executive Director Randall Kline and SFJAZZ publicist Marshall Lamm, giving us a guided peek inside the long-awaited house of jazz.

On the exterior, the structure is a sleek meld of concrete and glass that embraces the surrounding urban environment as well as the contemporary nature of the art form it houses. As jazz is an homage to the soul, this building exposes the elements inside of it for the world to see.

"The whole architectural core of the building is this idea of openness and being part of the neighborhood," Randall said. "At night, when the building is glowing, it will literally be flowing onto the sidewalk."

Digital Lab: A Learning Space for the Digital Age



Among the many functions of the building will be a strong emphasis on education. According to the SFJAZZ website, the SFJAZZ Digital Lab will offer "teens and adults instruction in digital music production, theory and musicianship, MIDI basics, notation skills, sequencing and audio recording. Students will explore software-based tools while gaining an understanding of essential music skills to create their own music."

During our tour, Marshall pointed out the sheer amount of conduit that lined the ceiling. This wiring, Marshall noted, is the key to ensuring the lab will be technologically sustainable for years to come.

"You want things to be technologically advanced for today, but the key is for it to be the same 10 years from now," Marshall said. "You need to build something that will [potentially] be here forever and take into consideration any changes in technology, any changes in how you record, how you stream video, audio, etc."

Hayes Valley's Newest Café



As part of the project, a new café will be opening at the intersection of Fell and Franklin. This new addition to Hayes Valley’s ever-expanding culinary scene will have a spectacularly open floor plan that practically spills out onto the corner's newly expanded sidewalk.

The café will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner with a yet-to-be-revealed menu prepared by the celebrated chef-owner of Slanted Door, Charles Phan.

Randall promises this eatery will continue the theme of openness that permeates the rest of the building.

"The street literally does intersect with the café," Randall said. "There's four large panes of glass that pivot and open right to the street."

During performance nights, patrons of the restaurant will even be able to peep inside a concert thanks to a window to the stage directly behind the counter.

"Whether you walk by or drive by, it's all part of this openness about knowing exactly what is happening in the building," Randall said.

Commemorating Jazz's Impact on Society



While the Center certainly captures the modernity of the genre, SFJAZZ also wanted to pay tribute to those who paved the way for its existence. They commissioned two artists, Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet, to design and construct three murals depicting jazz's historical influence on American civilization. These tiled paintings are titled "Jazz and the Nation," "Jazz and the City" and "Jazz and the Afterlife." 

"'Jazz and the Nation' and 'Jazz and the City' are for the center's second floor lobby," Marshall told us. "The two murals will combine to form one overall composition, a fictionalized cityscape made up of influential and important jazz venues from across the United States and San Francisco."

Marshall added, "They will also depict historical images and references of jazz from its roots in African music and the early days of New Orleans's second line traditions to the jazz styles of St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, New York, the West Coast, and Europe. The second mural includes great jazz venues and defining moments in the history of San Francisco jazz from the Fillmore District to the dot.com boom."

The third mural, "Jazz and the Afterlife" (pictured above), features famous fallen jazz greats and plays off religious Judgment Day frescos.

"[There are] club goers going up to a heaven of harps and bagpipes or down to a swinging party in a jazz hell where horns blast and jazz fans celebrate," Marshall continued.

If you have a spare three minutes, check out this teaser on the installation of one of the murals presented by the artists themselves.

Robert N. Miner Auditorium



The centerpiece of the whole project is the Robert N. Miner Auditorium, named after the co-founder of the Oracle Corporation. This space was meticulously designed by Len Auerbach and will seat up to 700 people. According to Randall, it was modeled after a variety of venues including Greek and Roman amphitheaters and New England town meeting halls. As varied as the styling of jazz, so is the versatility of this theater to configure to accommodate the various types of shows that it will house.

"This is a place for people to gather. You'll feel the energy tightly in here," Randall noted. "As you can see, as you'll be watching the performance, whether you're behind the stage, you can see other people watch the same performance. If you're down below [stage level], you'll be able to see out to the street."



Henrik Kam

According to Randall, "Behind all of the wood paneling is acoustic treatment that will reflect and absorb sound. It's all computer-modeled to get the room to a certain level of reverberance... The only variable acoustic element we have is behind the stage, an acoustical curtain that can dampen the sound. Particularly for jazz shows with drummers, we want to absorb the sound."

To enhance the whole experience of the finely-tuned audio, designer Auerbach also incorporated some stunning visual considerations. The projection booth allows for the broadcasting of hi-definition images onto the wall behind the stage, though it is not a movie-grade screen. Even the walls of the space are designed to successfully showcase low-resolution images.

An In-House Office

At the tippy-top of this structure sits the new office for SFJAZZ's 40-something employees. As Marshall put it, "There will be 40 new additions to the Hayes Valley community" when these employees move in on December 17.

While there is no parking lot for employees, Marshall reassured us that they expect to have little impact on the already-limited parking in Hayes Valley, as most employees will be taking public transportation. They also have parking lot deals in the works, in case any employees need to drive.

Looking Towards the Future

With opening day just a little more than a month away, the SFJAZZ Center's calendar of events is already starting to fill up:


  • January 21: SFJAZZ Center Opens

  • January 23: Historic Opening Night Concert

  • January 24-27: Grand Opening Week 1

  • January 31 – February 3: Grand Opening Week 2


After the big shebang and the elation of the grand opening subsides, it's time for the Center's inaugural season to kick off, and boy, do they have a lineup.

The Center will indeed bring much excitement to our neighborhood, but Randall told us they just "hope the center can be a community center, a place for ideas and conversation about the arts."

We have no doubt it will be.


Thanks to Randall Kline and Marshall Lamm for giving us an early preview of the SFJAZZ Center. And thanks to YOU for reading!

And now, a special treat: we have a pair of tickets to one of the first performances at the SFJAZZ Center — the Bay Area's own Lavay Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers, in concert on Sunday February 3rd. For a chance to win them, just make sure you "like" us on Facebook, then share this post on your Facebook page. On Friday, we'll contact a randomly-selected winner, so keep an eye out. Good luck!