How SFJAZZ Center Established Itself As A Cultural Force In San Francisco

SFJAZZ Center's Miner Auditorium

Photo by Tim Griffiths


How SFJAZZ Center Established Itself As A Cultural Force In San Francisco

After finding a permanent home in Hayes Valley, SFJAZZ Center has changed the way people think about jazz

GRAMMYs/Aug 2, 2019 - 12:54 am

When the SFJAZZ Center opened its doors in January of 2013, in the heart of San Francisco’s cultural district, it made a huge impact. Now recognized nationwide as a premier center for jazz, it has totally changed the cultural landscape of the city, and has established jazz as an essential, significant and legitimate art form. In addition to almost 500 shows a year by local and worldwide jazz luminaries, SFJAZZ offers extensive educational outreach, training, activities and performing programs for young musicians.

"We have helped put jazz on a similar level to the fine arts around us, so people talk about SFJAZZ in the same way they talk about the ballet or the opera," said SFJAZZ Founder and Executive Artistic Director Randall Kline, as we chatted in his office. Using the San Francisco Symphony as their model nonprofit, Kline had considered that, "If they could do that for symphonic music, why couldn't somebody do that with jazz?  And now after six plus years in this building, we are considered a cultural institution and a vibrant one."

Kline, who grew up in Massachusetts, originally aspired to be a professional string bass player. He moved to San Francisco in 1975, and began producing concerts and working at various clubs, eventually forming his own marketing and publicity company. Fortuitously, he hooked up with the City of San Francisco's arts granting program, Grants for the Arts for the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, that was interested in promoting jazz, and in 1982, Jazz in the City was launched. A series of jazz concerts in small venues around the city, it became incredibly popular, doubling and tripling in size every year.

"I had a marketing and publicity business for the arts, Kline & Associates," said Kline. "But after six years, I had to make a decision, because Jazz in the City was growing and growing and it was going to be impossible to do both." Following his heart, Kline chose the non-profit path. 

Although the series did not initially do well, through hard work and careful programming, Kline worked out the kinks. By the early '90s, the series started getting national attention and major accolades like "best festival in the country," and "the crown jewel of American festivals," from major publications like the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune

Although at times Kline said he was almost ready to "toss it," by the 10th anniversary, things started to really break loose. He changed the name to the San Francisco Jazz Festival, and began bringing in some big names like Tony Bennett. "We were slowly developing a loyal audience of people who understood how we programmed, and our position as a cultural presenter and purveyor here in the Bay Area," remarked Kline. Thus, the fertile seeds were sown for the eventual creation of the SFJAZZ Center, and after many nomadic years, the decision was made to break ground for a permanent home for the festival.

The idea was that the center should be "transformational," a new model that was a cross between a club and a concert hall. "We realized that we had to get everything right," said Kline. "There was a lot of thought about this building not only being reflective of the art form, but also being welcoming." He and his accomplished design team spent a lot of time researching and analyzing the elements necessary to create what Kline describes as a "transcendent moment" in a musical performance, for the audience, as well as the musicians. Their extensive and innovative planning resulted in an impressive, state-of-the-art structure, featuring floor-to-ceiling glass windows, reflective of current architectural trends for performing arts centers.

The center includes a spacious lobby, a casually elegant café and two performance halls—the 700-seat Robert N. Miner Auditorium, and the smaller, more intimate Joe Henderson lab that faces the street, allowing passersby to catch a glimpse of the performances. "At night, all that glass disappears and people can see in from the street, and understand that there's something happening. That’s a real 21st century idea—the idea of openness."

One of the factors that has contributed to the success of SFJAZZ is the creative and diverse programming, done by a team of five people, including Kline, and Director of Programming Lilly Schwartz. Kline explained that he believes that there are jazz influences in many kinds of music, including hip-hop, world music, contemporary classical and even country music. The extensive brochure attracts a culturally diverse audience of all ages who often plan as much as a year ahead when buying tickets.

"SFJAZZ has had a tremendous effect on our local jazz scene. It’s such a beautiful venue to see concerts, and every year their lineup has a great blend of legendary jazz artists—those who are currently making waves in the genre, and also local musicians who are doing great things," said pianist, emcee, producer and bandleader Kev Choice via email. He is currently a governor and the secretary of the board of the San Francisco chapter of the Recording Academy, and has been involved with SFJAZZ for a number of years, both as a performer and an educator.

"I also appreciate SFJAZZ for their dedication to educating the next generation of great jazz musicians," he added. "They host jazz education presentations to students at the venue that expose youth to musicians performing and engaging them about jazz, the tradition, and it’s importance to our culture.  They also host the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars Band, which some of my students have been a part of. It provides them with an amazing opportunity to play with other top young musicians in the Bay Area, have great instruction, and perform and travel around the world."

Kline said there are several new projects underway at SFJAZZ. Research and planning is currently in progress to launch a digital campaign, a subscription-based, on-demand series for people who aren’t able to attend the live concerts. They are also looking at ways to do more creative things with the lighting in the hall, and are in the process of designing an immersive AI-designed system done with laser projectors that works in real time, so the music itself will create the colorful patterns.

But most important, Kline and his team are passionate about making the experience at SFJAZZ as enjoyable and memorable as possible, for both the audience and the musicians. "Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life," said Kline, quoting jazz legend Art Blakey. "The music has a chance to really move you—you can go on a journey with somebody and have that transcendent moment. That's what the artist wants, that's what the audience wants, and if you can do that together, what a great thing."

Save Club Mezzanine: Inside The Efforts To Rescue San Francisco's Iconic Music Venue

Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More



Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

Mumu Fresh On What She Learned From Working With The Roots, Rhyming & More

Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/


Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

Seattle's Museum Of Pop Culture To Host Pearl Jam Exhibit

Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards


Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour


Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images


Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.


RELATED: How Rosalia Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star

"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

2019 Music Festival Preview: Noise Pop, Coachella, Ultra & More