Jazz at Lincoln Center and WBGO/NEWARK PLUBIC RADIO mourn the passing of Steve Ifshin.
Steve Ifshin served jazz from behind the scenes, but to those who knew him, he loomed large for the strength of his leadership, enthusiasm and vision. He was an especially vital force at WBGO Jazz88, where he served four years as chairman of the Board of Trustees. He also served on the boards at Jazz at Lincoln Center and the University of Vermont Foundation.
Ifshin died on Nov. 23 at Westchester Medical Center after a brief illness. He was 80.
Ifshin’s commitment to jazz ran deep, as did the support and encouragement he gave his team. Amy Niles, the president and CEO of WBGO, remembers the confidence he inspired as board chairman. “He had such a can-do attitude that was contagious,” she said. “When he was behind you, he made you feel that anything was possible, no matter what the challenges.”
Wynton Marsalis, the managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, remembers Ifshin’s dedication to the art form. “Steve loved the music and the music loved him back,” he said. “He was a son of Brooklyn who forged a path with insight, moxie and mother wit. He applied his entrepreneurial skills and love of jazz to elevate our beloved WBGO.”
Stephen Neil Ifshin was born on July 11, 1936 in Brooklyn, to Daniel Ifshin and the former Beatrice Kaplan. He spent his early years in Crown Heights, and later attended Midwood High School, near Brooklyn College.
“When we first met, he wanted to know did I ever go to Wingate Field and play basketball,” said Robert J. Appel, chairman of the board at Jazz at Lincoln Center, who missed Ifshin by several years at Midwood High. “He was passionate about Brooklyn and the old neighborhood in the ‘40s and ‘50s, just as he was passionate about the music.”
Ifshin attended the University of Vermont on a basketball scholarship—an especially noteworthy distinction given his height of 5’3”. (“When I introduced him to Kareem Abdul- Jabbar,” said Niles, “I pointed out that the two of them had something in common.”)
Ifshin began his career in commercial real estate in 1965, with Wolf & Macklowe. In 1973 he cofounded N. Peter Burton & Company, a commercial brokerage and property management firm; he served as its president until 1989, when he sold the business to Grubb & Ellis. Some of the largest real estate transactions in New York City at the time were shepherded by Ifshin, including the sale of the Ford Motor Building to the Bronfman family, in 1981, and the sale of the Tiffany Building to The Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank, in 1986.
He was founder and chairman of both the Empire State Land Company, a developer of residential properties, from 1985 to ’88; and The Delphi Land Company, Inc., a developer of town home communities, from 1989 to ’91. From 1991 until his passing, he was cofounder (with his son Adam) and chairman of DLC Management Corporation, one of the nation’s leading owners and operators of grocery-anchored shopping centers and community retail space.
Ifshin was a supporter of jazz long before his official involvement with two of the music’s leading nonprofits. He loved singers, especially Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, and pulled a shift as guest host of “Singers Unlimited,” Michael Bourne’s long-running program on WBGO. Ifshin and Bourne formed a close friendship, attending baseball games (Ifshin followed the Mets; Bourne is a diehard Cardinals fan) as well as jazz gigs and Broadway shows.
Bourne describes the ebullient way Ifshin would greet someone, briskly walking up with a twinkle in his eye. “He would not be offering his hand; he would be reaching for your hand,” he said. “And there was a difference in that. The first thing he said, every time, was: ‘How are ya?’”
Partly through the influence of his wife, Billie Lim, an art jeweler and former costume designer, Ifshin kept a flashy personal profile: luxury watches, rings and assorted bling. “He drove a Bentley well above the speed limit,” Niles recalled, but added: “He could talk with anyone about anything — he had an uncanny ability to connect people, and connect to people.”
As WBGO chairman from 2011 to 2015, Ifshin was instrumental in expanding the station’s reach and audience, notably through the effort to relocate its signal transmitter from 744 Broad Street in Newark to 4 Times Square in midtown Manhattan. He also oversaw the station’s transition of leadership from longtime president Cephas Bowles to Niles, whom he pronounced “committed to boosting WBGO’s reputation as the preeminent public radio station in the jazz community.”
Ifshin’s tenure on the Jazz at Lincoln Center board began more recently, within the last year. But he was a longtime supporter of the organization’s programming. “He would show up at concerts all the time,” recalled Appel. “He’d show up at Dizzy’s. He loved everything about the music. Although he was only at a couple of board meetings, he was at Jazz constantly.”
Marsalis said: “Jazz at Lincoln Center was excited and proud to welcome him to our Board, and we are saddened that his time with us was so short. Steve is a testament to the impact one dedicated and passionate person can have on this music and our culture — we are all the better for Steve’s time with us.”
Ifshin left behind a vibrant support structure for jazz, and a strong network of friends and colleagues, some who’d known him for decades and others who merely felt that way. “Everything that he enjoyed, he enjoyed completely,” said Bourne. “But there was nothing that he enjoyed more than the people in his life—his family, his friends.”
In addition to Lim, his wife of 25 years, Ifshin is survived by his children, Noelle and Adam; his sister, Ellen; and three grandchildren, Anya, Alec and Ari, along with many friends in and beyond the jazz community.
Chief among that constituency is the WBGO family, which honored Ifshin at its 2015 Champions of Jazz Benefit, held at the Mandarin Oriental New York. Timed in observance with Frank Sinatra’s birth centennial, the gala featured pianist Monty Alexander and a performance by Frank Sinatra, Jr.—tracing a celebratory line from one Chairman of the Board to another.
Donations can be made in Steve’s memory to the WBGO Steve Ifshin Tribute Fund:
WBGO/NEWARK PUBLIC RADIO
54 Park Place
Newark, NJ 07102
WBGO/NEWARK PUBLIC RADIO
Chairman Bob Appel, Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis, and the entire Board and staff of Jazz at Lincoln Center
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