Does SF Still Need the SF Jazz Festival?

jazz centerFor SF WEEKLY: For 30 years, the nonprofit organization now known as SFJAZZ has curated the San Francisco Jazz Festival, an annual showcase of live performances by well-known artists, more obscure ones, and local acts at venues throughout the city over the course of multiple weeks.
This year’s festival, from June 12 to June 23, will happen at the new SFJAZZ Center, a $64 million, 35,000-square-foot performance space, education center, and office headquarters in Hayes Valley that opened in January. The new center has a full, diverse, year-round calendar of jazz performances and events. So the question now is, why exactly does this annual jazz festival still need to exist?
“The idea is to keep turning people on to the idea of what jazz is,” center director Randall Kline says. “When we started, it was a whole different paradigm. The annual festival was the one big thing we did, and the press corps would say ‘It’s that time of year again.’ Our paradigm has completed shifted, and so now the festival should have its own character. It should feel different from what we do the rest of the year, which this year is not the case, I admit.”

Kline’s view of jazz is that of a broad diaspora: a trajectory of music across the globe that is indeed connected but not always similar. The festival’s lineup this year is no less interesting: Acts like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir will perform, as will pianist Ahmad Jamal, David Sanborn, the Will Blades Trio, Pedrito Martinez, and the Gerald Clayton Trio, among others.

“Eventually we want to feel more like the Montreal Jazz Festival, one of the great urban festivals, that has outdoor performances and multiple things happening in one day. In the future, we’ll have live jazz in local restaurants, and a big dance concert, where the whole neighborhood becomes a center for jazz,” Kline says.

Photo courtesy of SFJAZZ

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