01/02/2013 06:26 pm ET Updated Mar 04, 2013

San Francisco Jazz History: How Deep Does It Run?

This article comes to us courtesy of 7x7 magazine.

By Robert Mailer Anderson

One hundred years after the birth of jazz, the music--and all it means to the melting pot of America--finally gets an entire building of its own in San Francisco. Say amen, somebody! It ain't necessarily church, but that's because this choir swings hard with religious freedom. Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, anybody who can keep time is invited to sit in. Please turn in your songbook to the story of Satchmo, of "Strange Fruit," of "Mississippi Goddam," and "A Love Supreme." Let us sing together and become greater than the sum of our humble parts. Now we can finally explore jazz in a house built specifically to present and preserve the art form, as well as educate and inspire our diverse populace about the benefits of blue notes and our nation's rocky experiment of assimilation. The new SFJazz Center creates a new kind of cultural center where jazz is the central voice in the dialogue. To quote Miles Davis, "So what?"

Well, imagine America without a modern art museum. Imagine if paintings only had galleries to hang in and there were no museums or nonprofits to ensure public access. What if the free market were the deciding factor in what and whose work was shown? Would the greatest painters and paintings be displayed? Would there be room for experimentation and growth? Would that be the best way to experience the art, to ensure its vibrancy and impact?

Of course, people would still paint. Just as jazz musicians have kept their craft alive by playing in compromised settings. For the past 30 years, SFJazz (the largest presenter of jazz on the West Coast) has had to resort to lecture halls, movie theaters, churches, clubs, Davies Symphony Hall, and the War Memorial Opera House--none of which was designed to showcase jazz music. Straight, no chaser, there are more than 125 opera houses in North America. There are easily as many symphonies, most of which have a permanent home. SFMOMA is expanding thanks to a $555 million addition, and Sonoma State just added a classical music venue to its campus for $130 million. So why is it that SFJazz is still scratching for $63 million (which includes a $10 million endowment) to build the first-ever, standalone structure in the country dedicated to jazz? Consider it saxophonist Miguel Zenón versus another Tom Stoppard revival, the SFJazz Collective versus Michael Tilson Thomas, Jason Moran's Fats Waller Dance Party versus a new opera of Moby Dick. And unlike a Jackson Pollock painting appreciating in your collection, you can't leverage the Thelonious Monk recording that inspired it.

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