In San Francisco's Hayes Valley, SFJAZZ is the new kid on the block.Those familiar with San Francisco’s burgeoning Hayes Valley neighborhood might have noticed a shiny, new, largely transparent building on Franklin Street. It’s the recently opened home of SFJazz, an organization founded in 1983 by musician-cum-marketing guy Randall Kline. SFJazz first started out as a festival called Jazz in the City, but it has since morphed into one of only two major organizations in the country dedicated to cultivating jazz as a living art form, with year-round concerts, educational programs, a store and even a restaurant helmed by Charles Phan, of Slanted Door fame. Here’s how it all went down.
American Way: I think it’s safe to say you succeeded in your little festival endeavor.
Randall Kline: It’s The Little Engine That Could story. We only had 50 percent attendance at the first festival. So, we got a loan from the Arts Loan Fund, changed our programming and our schedule, and, by the third year, every funder in Northern California was saying, “Hey, these guys are legit.” We doubled or tripled in size almost every year until about 10 years ago.
AW: Did you always have your own building?
RK: Never. We started having the building conversation 20 years ago, but it was always a back-burner thing. We were doing strategic planning for the next decade, and the board said this would be a good time to [build].
AW: What did you envision for it?
RK: I thought it should be modern and classic, something midcentury — because that’s where the music for us originates from.
AW: What’s the connection between jazz and midcentury architecture?
RK: The nearest traditional reference point for contemporary jazz is basically the stuff that came out of the late ’40s, ’50s and into the ’60s — the beginning of bebop. That’s considered the birth of modern jazz. So it made sense, even though modern architecture started earlier than that. I was looking at Frank Lloyd Wright- and Louis Kahn-inspired stuff. One day I read about a music center in Mountain View designed by an architect named Mark Cavagnero. I went to his website, and the splash page had a John Coltrane quote. I thought that was a good sign.