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House of Swing at Lincoln Center

Far from images of smoke-filled boîtes, Frederick P. Rose Hall puts jazz in the heart of New York's towering Time Warner Center, in custom-designed quarters that rival those of leading opera and ballet companies and symphony orchestras. With more than 100,000 square feet and a $128 million price tag, this space proclaims that jazz has arrived. Big time. Rose Hall is the world's first performing arts institution devoted entirely to jazz, and the project, designed by architect Rafael Viñoly, is ambitious, incorporating three distinctive venues for performances, two rehearsal rooms that can double as classrooms, a jazz hall of fame, and a recording studio. Walls are painted bold shades of aubergine and chartreuse; warm wood is everywhere.

The arrival of Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) from its original campus five blocks north turns the Time Warner Center—already loaded with the Time Warner headquarters, CNN studios, a retail mall, zillion-dollar apartments, and restaurants run by celebrity chefs—into a cultural destination. It would be hard for anyone near Columbus Circle at Central Park to miss the gleaming 50-by-90-foot window of JALC's Allen Room set on the fifth story, above the building's glossy shops. At night, when that room with a view glows, a big band may power its way through swing, a diva may croon blues, or a young man may wail on his horn.

And there's a kind of poetry to the location. Not surprisingly, JALC reveres Duke Ellington, and its premier education program, "Essentially Ellington," puts the Duke in the same league as Mozart and Bach. At Jazz at Lincoln Center, you don't have to hurry to "Take the A Train," the title of one of Ellington's biggest hits. It's in the subway station downstairs.

As part of a three-week opening festival, October 18 through November 6, featuring singers Cassandra Wilson and Dianne Reeves, bluegrass guitarist Ricky Skaggs, Senegalese percussionist Abdou M'Boup, the 15-member Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is performing original compositions with the New York City Ballet, the modern troupe Garth Fagan Dance, and peerless tap dancer Savion Glover. In total, the first season will rack up some 450 performances, broadcasts, and educational concerts. Two tight ensembles are at the middle of it: the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, 18 musicians from the Latin jazz scene led by Arturo O'Farrill.

The presiding spirit is Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter, composer, arts advocate, leader of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and JALC's artistic director. As George Balanchine did when he supervised the design of New York City Ballet's theater, Marsalis outlined JALC's needs, set the tone, nudged the acoustics, and corralled the donors.

The other figure in the creation of JALC's new site was Rudolph Giuliani. When the Time Warner building was fin-ally going up, following several stalled proposals, one of the mayor's requirements was a center for performing arts. He want-ed an opera house, and he got one, albeit for jazz. JALC represents the result of a rare successful collaboration among developers, two successive New York City administrations, and a cultural institution.

The centerpiece of JALC—a space that's already an only-in-New York landmark—is the Allen Room, overlooking Central Park and Columbus Circle, with views of midtown Manhattan, the elegant towers of Fifth Avenue, and the syncopated skyline of Central Park South. Entering the Allen Room is like stepping into a glamorous Hollywood movie set—with tiered seating and risers that retract to make space for dancing.

"Originally, this was not a performance area, but the lobby," says Rafael Viñoly. "But jazz is not a formal, 19th-century art, and I felt that this site should be occupied by music. So I had the rare chance to create a space that is not necessarily a cabaret or a lobby or a theater, but some hybrid that could be used in various ways. The view underscores the connection between the city and this music. You couldn't ask for anything jazzier than the New York skyline right outside the window."

Giuliani got his opera house in the Rose Theater, a performance hall holding 1,200. Structurally, the place feels like London's Globe Theatre—intimate, focused, with no seat more than 100 feet from the stage—yet it's also flexible, with configurations for a concert hall with proscenium or a theater for dance and opera. Even in a city with dozens of first-class venues, the Rose Theater will be in demand.

And of course there's a late-night hot spot: Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola. A sinuous, sophisticated space for 140 people to listen to small ensembles, the room is a concerto of curving bamboo and blood-red terrazzo, with not a single right angle. It feels like being inside a grand piano—one with views of Central Park.

As visually dazzling as JALC is, its looks were secondary, according to Viñoly. "The sound of these spaces is foremost," the architect says. "Technically, the acous-tical requirements for a concert hall for jazz did not exist. Building a concert hall or a house for opera or chamber music, you know the standards of excellence. Jazz musicians have played in some absolutely wonderful halls designed for listening to classical music, and there are plenty of places they hate, but there are no parameters for how a 1,200-person room for jazz should sound. So we had to create the parameters. The process was collaborative. The musicians contributed their views on defining the acoustics, we talked with Wynton, and we worked closely with the engineers."


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