The SFJAZZ Center Opening Is A Celebration Of Diversity

The SFJazz Center is one of the best places to visit once everything opens up again.

This place is yours now,” began Bill Cosby, MC of the SFJazz Center's long-awaited grand opening. I couldn't agree more Bill as I looked around the 700-seat auditorium to see everyone from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to your everyday jazz lover cheer.

The one thing I cherish about San Francisco is its diversity. According to the latest United States Census, the ethnic makeup and population consists of: 48.5% Whites, 33.3% Asians, 15.1% Hispanics, 6.1% African Americans, 0.5% Native Americans, 0.4% Pacific Islanders, 6.6% from other races, and 4.7% from two or more races. Only New York City and Honolulu can rival such a mix.

Feel The Music

joshandjoe - The SFJAZZ Center Opening Is A Celebration Of Diversity
Josh Redman & Joe Lovano

With diversity comes acceptance of various cultures. Diversity comes tolerance of religion and sexuality. With diversity comes the strong fight for equality every single day. I wouldn't have it any other way. In another 118 years, I'm sure all of America will look like San Francisco. If I'm wrong, you'll just have to let me know.

The SFJazz Center in Hayes Valley is a product of a $64 million fund raising effort led by my friend Robert Mailer Anderson. Without Robert's leadership and the collective will and generosity from donors, America's first stand-alone jazz center would not exist today. The 35,000-foot space took over two years to build and is equipped with a digital lab and education center along with its 700 person capacity. There is truly no bad seat in the house.

The Importance OF Jazz And Diversity

Jazz was born in America in the late 1800's. Historians specifically point to New Orleans, Louisiana where the foundation of Jazz in the form of Blues first began in the Black community. What's notable about jazz is the expression of freedom through improvisation. It's as if musicians and listeners found Jazz as a way to escape oppression.

It's very interesting to observe the continued existence of discrimination through the prohibition of gay marriage in most parts of America. Just as we now think it's unthinkable to have racial segregation in schools, one day we too shall all find it atrocious we once allowed government to determine who we can and cannot marry.

It's fine to have our own beliefs. However, as soon as we impose our will on others we are violating someone else's freedom. Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do? Who is the government to tell me what I can and cannot say? Why do we impose different standards for one group and not another? This is America for goodness sake.

Tolerance comes from putting ourselves in someone else's shoes. We may find understanding through living abroad or mastering a second language. Or perhaps we can simply learn to be more understanding by mingling with people unlike ourselves. Jazz has always been a part of San Francisco's culture. Now we have a center dedicated to bringing some of the world's best jazz musicians to see us. It's time to attend.

The Significance Of Experiencing Many Different Things

My first real exposure to jazz occurred in college when I heard Wynton Marsalis play the trumpet live. Through the experience, I was able to meet a plethora of people whom I normally wouldn't get a chance to know. And through such encounters, I have a better understanding of the South, where I went to school.

The SFJAZZ Center Opening Is A Celebration Of Diversity
Ronnie Lott, Larry Baer and friends

Those who are able to experience many different things are those who can best get along with everyone. The ability to draw from various experiencing when building relationships and collaborating on projects cannot be underestimated. Imagine the wars which could be averted if each side spent time studying abroad in their enemy's country as students. I encourage everyone to keep an open mind about alternative points of view. It's the best way we can progress.

There's been a tremendous backlash against the wealthy since the downturn. It's disappointing quite frankly. If it wasn't for those who've donated millions of dollars to build the SFJAZZ Center, many everyday citizens would never get a chance to see legends such as Bobby Hutcherson, Chick Corea, or Pete Escovedo perform simply because they might never come to San Francisco.

Rich or poor does not matter because we're all in this together. The next time you come out to San Francisco, come visit the SFJazz Center at the corner of Fell and Franklin. You might just start tapping your feet again.

Related: Three White Tenants, One Asian Landlord

Readers, what are your thoughts on tolerance and acceptance in America or your country? Are we heading in the right direction? Will every part of America become as diverse as San Francisco a hundred years from now? 

15 thoughts on “The SFJAZZ Center Opening Is A Celebration Of Diversity”

  1. I need to check out the SF Jazz Center. Having lived in Silicon Valley for 7+ years now I’m ashamed to admit how rarely I get up to the city for cultural excursions. I agree that it’s important for the wealthy to be able to support the arts. It’s great that you do.

  2. I saw a PBS special on the new SF Jazz center recently. I think it’s fabulous what they’ve created for the community and musicians. The SF Jazz Collective is so good. I’ve heard them perform a few times. I didn’t listen to much jazz growing up but I’ve really grown to like it a lot because there are so many varieties. The improvisations that jazz musicians can perform really impress me too as that’s something I never learned how to do in my musical experience.

  3. Sam,

    San Fran has one of the best music scenes on Earth. Don’t forget to check out San Fran Symphony; they are awesome!

    As far as Jazz is concerned, it is ironic that this incredible genre was performed (mostly) by poor and less academically educated people, and now is an art form reserved for the elite.

    As a musician myself, I am aware that the art will only thrive through education and bringing EVERYONE into the fold.

    Thanks for this awesome post!

  4. Most of the country is not very diverse. Growing up in the New York area, I was exposed to a diversity of people and cultures. I many ways, Los Angeles is similar although the percentages are a little different. I think it is really important to accept our differences. For many, prejudice is alive and well. If you take the time to meet and get to know other people of different backgrounds, you realize we are not that different. The Hispanic population is growing, so you either adapt or not. I f I go to Orange County (southern California) most of it is far less diverse than Los Angeles.

    I started listening to jazz when I was 10 years old. I was exposed to some jazz when I took piano lessons years before. One of my first music purchases was a jazz album (Dave Brubeck). I remember listening to a lot of different music in a music appreciation class in 7th grade. I remember also listening to Aaron Copland (classical) and Spanish music too. This was during the height of the rock ‘n roll heyday (late 1950s and 60s).

  5. I’m originally from New Orleans, so I certainly appreciate your love of jazz, and it’s rich history. The one reason why I feel that I can’t ever live in Louisiana permanently, however, is because although diverse, it’s not really very accepting racially speaking. Here in Grenada, there are people from all over the world who work with me, and many of them have mixed marriages and are form unique backgrounds themselves. This experience has really opened my eyes to the world, and it makes me want to live somewhere else when we move back.

    1. Interesting perspective on New Orleans not being very racially accepting. It’s great that you and your husband get to study abroad. It really makes a difference in seeing the world in a better light.

  6. Diversity. Jazz, a truly American art form, bringing black and white performers together through love of cannibas, heroin, hoochie mamas, and sleeping ‘til afternoon.

    But seriously, diversity is a nice idea and it would be great if we all looked different, yet held common behavior and values. So far, in this uniquely American experiment, it hasn’t worked out that way. And still the U.S. is far above every other country in both theory and practice of diversity.

    The diversity at this event seems to fall into two categories: “wealthy and famous” and “wealthy and not-famous.” Sam, it is interesting to read your reaction to being surrounded by people wealthier than yourself. That must have been a truly diverse evening for you.:-) It speaks well of you that you support your friend, and well of your friend that he supports his satisfactions. Your point about ‘backlash’ on the wealthy is well-taken; it is a lot easier for those judging to ascribe ‘evil’ or ‘selfish’ intent to a group of people, when they would be embarrassed to publicly generalize about a race, gender, or orientation. And of course, the fact that they are not wealthy implies that they are not ‘evil’ or ‘selfish’.

    San Francisco is a wealthy city, without a lot of the sociopathies and shortfalls found elsewhere. There is a very good reason SFJAZZ opened in San Francisco, and not a few miles away in Oakland. There are big problems in certain communities. Here is one. And here is another. Not all kinds of diversity are desirable. And they are not all due to racism or discrimination.

    It would be interesting to see what the audiences at SF will look like one month from now. Demographics for Jazz ticket-buyers are not diverse
    (i.e. 83% over age 45, 80% white, 79% with 4-year degree or higher). Demographics for tennis and baseball skew in this direction, too.

    I’m not sure the rest of America is going to look like SF anytime soon. For instance, Asian Americans are less than 6% of the U.S. population, but 33% in SF. They have the highest levels of income and educational achievement (almost 50% of 4-year degrees, compared to 30% of the overall population). Nobody really cares about gender, race, or orientation anymore. People can live and work anywhere they want today, so long as they can afford it. And like the SFJazz, there is a very good reason SF residents live in San Francisco, and not Oakland. That reason is the dividing line.

    1. Although Oakland is only about 12 miles away, it is quite a different city than San Francisco. I can speak of Oakland’s pluses and minuses as I don’t live there.

      I beg to differ on your statement that nobody cares about gender, race, or orientation anymore. Those who have been subject to discrimination care a great deal.

  7. Kim@Eyesonthedollar

    I can only hope we will become more diverse. Even in a small town that might seem backwards, I see some hint of that. Our town council has a mayor who is a Democrat, a mayor pro tem who is an openly gay, Green party member, and a staunch tea party Republican along with the rest who are somewhere in between. They seem to work together pretty well. The county government has always been mostly good old boys, but just elected an independent candidate this past November. I think people are fed up with good old boys. It gives me hope.

    1. Given you mention politics, it was interesting to see the contrasting diversity in the Presidential election’s final night. I was surprised how homogenous Romney’s audience was during his concession speech. I do wonder why there wasn’t more diversity in his camp if he really wanted to win.

  8. I enjoy Jazz, but I wish more people enjoyed it. As for S|F diversity, I wouldn’t argue it. The only other city in US I could think of similarly (which you mentioned) is NYC. That being said I’m pretty proud to live in Canada’s most diverse city – Toronto. The makeup of ethnic backgrounds within the GTA is surreal.

  9. Retired Syd

    Well you’ve certainly captured why I love San Francisco, not the least of which is her diversity, open-mindedness, and now lovely SF Jazz center. We enjoyed a pre-opening concert last weekend with the very talented SF Jazz High School All Stars, the jazz stars of our future for sure! And great fun to find our own names near the top of the “F” of SF JAZZ, etched in glass among my fellow jazz lovers of the Bay Area. Looking forward to seeing one of very favorites, Bobby Hutcherson, tomorrow night.

    1. Great stuff Syd! How did Bobby play? He had his oxygen tubes on during the opening concert, but he didn’t miss a beat. I agree about the SF Jazz HS All Stars. Great to see them perform.

  10. Sometimes Jazz is a good, unwinding piece of music-and can be a good unifying force for a lot of us. I tend to keep a little playlist on Youtube for myself.

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