Jazz at its Best


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Photo by Brad Feinknopf

At Broadway and 60th streets in New York City, the southwest corner of Central Park, is the world's first building designed acoustically for jazz performance. In only two years, thousands of audience members have enjoyed performances by hundreds of world-renowned jazz artists inside Frederick P. Rose Hall, home to the world's largest producer of jazz performances and educational programming, Jazz at Lincoln Center.

It is here that local audiences can enjoy the sounds of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, or special productions featuring Abbey Lincoln, Tony Bennett, Patti Austin, James Moody and Jimmy Heath on any of three stages inside Frederick P. Rose Hall. But jazz aficionados outside New York can experience the music produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center too. Live and pre-recorded performances are broadcast on XM Satellite Radio to an audience of more than 7.6 million subscribers and on Jazz at Lincoln Center Radio, which is broadcast to more than 240 stations across the United States.

Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) began as the Classical Jazz concert series in 1987. Concerts were produced by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis was hired as the artistic director. Throughout the next decade the organization grew and in 1998 it became a full constituent at Lincoln Center equal to The Julliard School, The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, New York Philharmonic and other famous performance companies.

But Jazz at Lincoln Center had no dedicated venues designed for its performance, education or audio recording. All recordings were produced using fly packs temporarily installed in dressing rooms and green rooms. Marsalis hoped to change this and began looking for a solution.

The old, unattractive New York Coliseum performance house on Manhattan's Upper West Side closed in the late 1980s and was scheduled for demolition. Columbus Circle was prime real estate, and in 1998 Mayor Rudolph Guiliani planned a neighborhood revitalization at Columbus Circle and stipulated the project contain a cultural element.

Opportunity knocked

Jazz at Lincoln Center's golden opportunity had arrived. In February 1998 Mayor Guiliani announced that Jazz at Lincoln Center would be that cultural element. It would be the first ever performance space designed specifically and acoustically for the sound of jazz. If this project found its way to completion, New York City would host the first place in the world built especially for jazz.

Control Room A is the heart of the audio recording facility and features a monitor view of the performance space. Photo by Courtney Spencer/SIA Acoustics.

But more than just blueprints and construction materials were needed for the formidable task of creating this unique piece of architecture. Dedication and passion for jazz were requirements for all who were involved. Bovis Lend Lease constructed the core and shell over two years. Then, for the next four years, Turner/Santa Fe Construction built the edifice. Jazz at Lincoln Center's board member Jonathon F.P. Rose and former CEO Hughlyn F. Fierce oversaw construction and kept it on time and on budget. Even the events of Sept. 11, 2001, didn't interrupt the project or fundraising efforts as the JALC dream inched closer to completion.

Marsalis had played at European opera halls whose sound was superior to any American concert house. The performance space for jazz had to be on the same level as an opera house. However, opera houses and concert halls are designed for symphonic music, unlike jazz that has bass, drums and cymbals playing continuously.

Rafael Viñoly Architects designed Frederick P. Rose Hall while several other specialists were brought in to consult: Russell Johnson of Artec Consultants; John Storyk of Walters-Storyk Design Group; Sam Berkow of SIA Acoustics; and The Rockwell Group, who had designed the Neshui Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame contained within the space. The acousticians formed the team, “The Sound of Jazz.”

The rack room houses all the Pro Tools interfaces as well as some processing and monitoring equipment. Photo by Courtney Spencer/SIA Acoustics.

The biggest problem for The Sound of Jazz to solve was extraneous sound. The Frederick P. Rose Hall site was surrounded by noise: the subway below, the towers above, and the traffic and street life around it. Sound isolation was the key element in the design of this futuristic venue. In addition, the acoustical designs of the performance spaces had to support amplified and unamplified performances.

The solution was a “floating box-in-box construction” for the largest venue, Rose Theater, with no rigid structural connections to the rest of the hall. Rose Theater, one of the three performance halls, sits on rubber and steel isolation pads to minimize the noise from the outside, creating a quiet and intimate space. Rose Theater achieves a noise control level of N1, which virtually eliminates ambient noise. The design allows for exceptional acoustic isolation making the theater an ideal place to create recordings for live and tracked productions. Also, the natural room sound can be “tuned” by adjusting an acoustic curtain and banner system. More than 50 curtains can be deployed or retracted to adjust the amount of natural ring-time.



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