Chapter 4: Building the House of Swing

1987-2004: Wynton and a small group of jazz advocates created the first major institution for jazz music. Scroll to view a timeline of how Jazz at Lincoln Center was built.

"And then, late in the twentieth century, some people decided to do something... Ironically, most of these innovators didn't even own instruments." — Wynton Marsalis, In the Spirit of Swing: The First 25 Years of Jazz at Lincoln Center

Alina Bloomgarden and Nat Leventhal (August 09, 1989) by Bill MayWynton Marsalis

Small beginnings

In the mid-1980s, Lincoln Center executive Alina Bloomgarden had a dream: to bring Jazz to one of America's most revered classical arts institutions. After years of proposals, her dream became a reality with the launch of the "Classical Jazz" summer series at Lincoln Center.

"Classical Jazz" at Lincoln Center, 1987-1990

"Classical Jazz" at Lincoln Center (August, 1987) by Alina Bloomgarden, Lincoln CenterWynton Marsalis

"Classical Jazz" at Lincoln Center

What makes some jazz 'classical'? Distinct marketing strategies were used to promote the groundbreaking summer jazz series to classical Lincoln Center audiences. This is the poster from the first round of summer concerts in 1987. 

"Classical Jazz" at Lincoln Center

The series was put on in early August, and consisted of three pioneering performances: "Ladies First," "The Music of Thelonious Monk" and the "Bird Night" Tribute to Charlie Parker. 

The great Betty Carter (1987) by Bill MayWynton Marsalis

Betty Carter

Betty Carter was one of the many jazz all-stars who were onboarded for the "Classical Jazz" summer series. She headlined the first show in 1987. Here, Ms. Carter is candidly posing for the promotional campaign at Alice Tully Hall. 

Alina and Wynton's summer concert series lasted four seasons, from 1987 to 1990. They were among a cohort of jazz advocates both within and outside of Lincoln Center who saw the series as the beginning of a larger movement in jazz music. Stanley Crouch and Rob Gibson were two of those outside of Lincoln Center's governing body whom Wynton recruited to bolster this mission. Institutional partners like WBGO also lent a helping hand.

The Key Players, Frank Stewart, From the collection of: Wynton Marsalis
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From left: Wynton Marsalis, Albert Murray, Stanley Crouch and Rob Gibson pose for a photo together.

The New York Times called "Classical Jazz" at Lincoln Center the most important jazz festival in America. Because of its success, Lincoln Center’s board created a committee chaired by Gordon Davis in March 1989. Their mission was to consider and recommend to the full board at Lincoln Center a future plan for jazz programming at the institution.

In preparation (1992) by Frank StewartWynton Marsalis

Other members of the committee were Mario Baeza, William Butcher, Mary Schmidt Campbell, Diane Coffey, Ahmet Ertegun, June Larkin, Wynton Marsalis, Tony Marshall, Albert Murray, Jonathan Rose, and Richard Schwartz. 

Together, the committee was driven to place the greatest in jazz on equal footing with those in the American high art canon, like BernsteinCopeland, and Balanchine.

Lincoln Center Establishes a Jazz Department

JALC's former director Rob Gibson and former JLCO music director Jon Faddis by Frank StewartWynton Marsalis

In 1990, Lincoln Center created a department for jazz. It was a hard-earned step in the right direction towards canonizing the music as a high-art form. However, Wynton and the founding leadership of the department knew they had a long road ahead of them. 

JALC needed a leadership team to take it to the next level. Key players like Rob Gibson (seated with newspaper) were essential in the organization's expansion. Here, Gibson is pictured with jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis. 

"In order to grow, we needed an executive who understood the music and its possibilities. When we met Rob Gibson, the Southern hurricane, we knew we had a true believer who would make things happen." — Wynton

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (1992) by Frank StewartWynton Marsalis

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

With the establishment of a Jazz Department at Lincoln Center, there needed to be a dedicated group of musicians to perform its work. Thus came the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, led by Wynton Marsalis.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Pictured here is the orchestra in 1992: David Berger, Emery Thompson, Todd Wiliams, Sir Roland Hanna, Bill Easley, Wynton Marsalis, Norris Turney. Britt Woodman, Jerry Dodgion, Reginald Veal, Herlin Riley, Milt Grayson, Joe Temperley Marcus Belgrave, and Wycliffe Gordon. 

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

The same year as this photo, the JLCO would embark on its first national tour, covering 30 cities. They would play everywhere from the Hollywood Bowl in LA to the Pabst Theatre of Milwaulkee, and back to Avery Fischer Hall in NYC. They sold out every show.

JALC Becomes an Official Constituency of Lincoln Center

JALC becomes an official constituency of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. (July 1, 1996) by Frank StewartWynton Marsalis

Branching Out

On July 1, 1996, Jazz at Lincoln Center became a free-standing entity that could grow independently. Rather than being a department of the mothership, it was now a constituent institution of Lincoln Center.

While it remained connected to Lincoln Center, JALC had become a separate organization with its own nonprofit 501(c)3 status. It was the twelfth to join the Lincoln Center constituency ranks alongside the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City Ballet, and the New York Philharmonic.

A unique angle on the music, Frank Stewart, 1997, From the collection of: Wynton Marsalis
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The band rehearses for a 1997 performance. This photo was taken the same year Marsalis released his Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio, Blood on the Fields.

Movement by Frank StewartWynton Marsalis

The Basics

According to Albert Murray, four components were necessary for the organization to be successful. To this, Wynton added three more.

1. JALC should be curatorial: presenting performances, lectures and other events.
2. JALC should be educational: teaching any person of any age how to appreciate what has been curated.
3. JALC should be ceremonial: celebrating and honoring those who honor jazz music.
4. JALC should be archival: documenting its work, maintaining a library and commemorating achievements.
5. At JALC, there will be no segregation.
6. At JALC, there will be no generation gap.
7. All jazz is modern.

Paquito d'Rivera and Brenda Feliciano deep in song (2000) by Jack Vartoogian/Frontrow PhotosWynton Marsalis

Connecting jazz with the world

One of the key achievements that Wynton and his team were able to accomplish in JALC's early years was diverse collaborations. 

Jazz at Lincoln Center attracted jazz musicians from all over the world to come and perform on its stages, expanding audience's understanding of the genre. Here, GRAMMY-winning Cuban saxophonist Paquito d'Rivera and singer Brenda Feliciano perform at JALC.  

Wynton leads a march of the JLCO through the aisle of the New York Philharmonic during the premier of All Rise at Avery Fischer Hall (December 29, 1999) by Frank StewartWynton Marsalis

Collaborations Across Institutional Lines

In addition to promoting diverse individuals, there were partnerships with famed institutions. With the encouragement of then-director Rob Gibson, Wynton began writing a new collaborative piece every year. In 1999, All Rise premiered, performed with the New York Philharmonic.

"We must have this hall."

JALC in the press (August 17, 1998) by Steven R. Weisman, New York TimesWynton Marsalis

In 1996, Lincoln Center proposed the construction of a new multi-use performance space. $9 million in city funding, as well as a stealthy anonymous donation were reeled in for the project. But by the spring of 1997, the idea was squashed by apprehension within the organization.

In parallel, Wynton and his team were brainstorming the next chapter of JALC: a new home. When Time Warner won Mayor Giuliani's bid for the New York Coliseum site at Columbus Circle, it became clear it was the right time to strike.

With the help of Gordon Davis, Wynton and Rob Gibson were able to plead their case to Lincoln Center's chairman and top staff. It was simple: "We must have this hall," Wynton told them.

The Campaign for a New Home, Jazz at Lincoln Center, June 1999, From the collection of: Wynton Marsalis
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The cover page of the capital campaign proposal for JALC's new facility. It was presented to potential donors in 1999. 

Center of the city (June 1999) by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, Elkus/Manfredi Architects LTD, Columbus Centre PartnersWynton Marsalis

Envisioning a new Columbus Circle

And have it they did. With the vision of architect Rafael Viñoly, The House of Swing was designed to be New York's premier space for jazz performance, education and broadcasting. In this image and the following, we see the architectural vision for the space. 

"Section Perspective" (June 1999) by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, Elkus/Manfredi Architects LTD, Columbus Centre PartnersWynton Marsalis

Wynton and the first lady (Circa 2002) by Frank StewartWynton Marsalis

Gaining support from Capitol Hill

Wynton took the job of fundraising for Frederick P. Rose Hall far and wide. JALC advocated for support on local, city-wide, and national levels. 

I wanna be in that number! (October 18, 2004) by UnknownWynton Marsalis

Finally, the house was built. Frederick P. Rose Hall opened its doors with a second line parade on Oct. 18, 2004, Wynton's 43rd birthday. 

Frederick P. Rose Hall, Frank Stewart, 2004, From the collection of: Wynton Marsalis
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Putting the space to good use, Frank Stewart, Circa 2006, From the collection of: Wynton Marsalis
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Before and after. Left: Frederick P. Rose Hall on the cusp of its launch. Right: two years later, the venue was in full swing. 

Street view: Jazz at Lincoln Center (Circa 2004) by UnknownWynton Marsalis

Today, Wynton is the Artistic and Managing Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. The organization continues to entertain, enrich and expand a global community for jazz through performance, education, and advocacy.

Credits: Story

Curated by Julia Engel, Wynton Marsalis Enterprises, Inc. Photos courtesy of Jazz at Lincoln Center and Frank Stewart. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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