[JPL] With a New Director, Jazz at Lincoln Center Sets New Goals
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Mon Sep 8 08:13:44 EDT 2008
September 8, 2008
With a New Director, Jazz at Lincoln Center Sets New Goals
By ROBIN POGREBIN
In 2006 Jazz at Lincoln Center turned to Adrian Ellis for help.
The organization had been struggling under the weight of its explosive
growth since moving into a new $131 million home in the Time Warner Center
at Columbus Circle in 2004. It had tripled its budget and taken on three
stages, where before it didn¹t have even one.
Mr. Ellis, a management consultant who has specialized in advising nonprofit
cultural institutions, said it was like giving the organization a
Lamborghini, without first making sure anyone knew how to drive.
Now Mr. Ellis is at the wheel.
As Jazz at Lincoln Center prepares to open its fifth and biggest season at
the Time Warner building on Sept. 18, Mr. Ellis is completing his first year
as its executive director, the sixth person in that post in six years.
It would seem that the hardest work is past. Jazz at Lincoln Center has paid
off the construction costs on its new building and audiences have grown
accustomed to visiting its three spaces: the 1,200-seat Rose Theater, the
smaller Allen Room overlooking twinkling Central Park South and the intimate
Dizzy¹s Club Coca-Cola. (The organization used to borrow space at Lincoln
But there are still challenges. The Allen Room and Rose Theater devote less
than a quarter of their schedules to jazz. They are rented out the rest of
the time because Jazz at Lincoln Center needs the income. Mr. Ellis said he
planned to double that percentage of jazz over the next five years.
He also plans to invigorate the public areas separating the three theaters,
which, because Jazz at Lincoln Center ran out of money during construction,
have had a lifeless, utilitarian air. Mr. Ellis said he plans to add a cafe,
an improved gift shop and an information center for jazz events all over the
city. And he wants to schedule free live music during the day.
His most important task, however, will be building the organization¹s
endowment, which currently stands at $11 million. Mr. Ellis said the
organization would try to raise $70 million over the next five years.
³Jazz at Lincoln Center needs to be able to weather hard times,² he said. He
added that he had seen many artistically strong but financially weak arts
organizations unable to focus on their mission ³because they are worried
about meeting next month¹s payroll.²
Mr. Ellis said he also wants to commission, record and broadcast ³more jazz
than we do² and to make the organization¹s extensive recordings, charts and
lectures accessible online.
The 2008-9 season will feature more than 3,000 events, including education
activities, touring, performances and sets at Dizzy¹s Club Coca-Cola.
Highlights include the pianist Ahmad Jamal performing with his trio and the
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; a festival in honor of Thelonious Monk; a
two-night stand by Eddie Palmieri¹s Latin-jazz big band; and a concert
honoring the 50th anniversaries of two landmark albums, John Coltrane¹s
³Giant Steps² and Miles Davis¹s ³Kind of Blue,² led by the organization¹s
longtime artistic director, Wynton Marsalis.
Mr. Marsalis makes the artistic and programming decisions for Jazz at
Lincoln Center and is very much its public face. Bruce MacCombie, a previous
executive director, said: ³If the expectation is that one¹s going to have
much or anything to do with the creative side of things, one shouldn¹t have
that illusion. It¹s obviously Wynton¹s show.²
But Rob Gibson, the organization¹s first executive director, said Mr.
Marsalis stayed on his side of the aisle. ³He¹s a terrific trumpet player, a
great educator, a wonderful composer, and he did a great job leading the
band,² Mr. Gibson said. ³But I always told him, Stay out of the
administration,¹ and he did.²
Mr. Ellis and Mr. Marsalis say they have a good working relationship, with
Mr. Ellis primarily responsible for operational and financial matters and
Mr. Marsalis handling the artistic side. ³It¹s exactly like our music
there are no stars,² Mr. Marsalis said. ³It¹s clear who does what. We made a
commitment to each other to work together.²
They also share a passion for jazz. ³He loves the music,² Mr. Marsalis said.
Mr. Ellis has had ample preparation for his new job. Before starting AEA
Consulting in 1990, he earned degrees from University College Oxford and the
London School of Economics, worked as a civil servant in the Treasury and
the Cabinet Office in London and managed the establishment of the Design
Museum, which opened on Butler¹s Wharf in London in 1989.
At AEA, which continues to operate out of offices in New York and London,
Mr. Ellis advised cultural institutions like the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los
Angeles, the San Francisco Opera, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in
Boston and the National Gallery in London. He became something of a
specialist in counseling nonprofit organizations on the perils of managing
In March 2006 he was retained to develop a strategic plan for Jazz at
Lincoln Center. A year and half later he was brought on board to implement
it. ³He¹s the right person in the right job at the right time,² said Gordon
J. Davis, the founding chairman of Jazz at Lincoln Center.
The executive director¹s position has been a revolving door. Mr. Ellis
replaced Katherine Brown, who stepped down in June 2007 after a little more
than a year in the job, though she had spent a decade with the organization.
Her predecessor, Derek E. Gordon, also spent just a year in the position.
³The job kept growing and changing as we went along,² said Lisa Schiff, the
chairwoman of the board of Jazz at Lincoln Center. ³Nobody has quite had the
birthing pains we had.²
³We had to learn how to run this organization without letting it run us,²
she said. ³We went from running some concerts to running a major arts
facility. Pretty scary stuff.²
Increasingly Jazz at Lincoln Center seems to be on solid footing. The
average performance capacity was 92 percent in fiscal year 2008, up from 86
percent in 2006. Ticket revenue increased 13 percent over that period. The
annual budget has reached $42 million, up from less than $1 million when
Jazz at Lincoln Center was founded 22 years ago.
Mr. Ellis said a central part of his mandate was creating future audiences
for jazz. Thus the educational programming ranges from WeBop! classes for
preschoolers to a middle school jazz academy to a high school jazz band
program to Swing University, which offers adults the opportunity to learn
from jazz scholars, historians and musicians.
³The central purpose of Jazz at Lincoln Center is to help ensure the
vitality of the music in the long term,² Mr. Ellis said. ³We¹ve built a
sense of organizational and financial stability upon which we can grow.²
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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