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History of Jazz at Lincoln Center


From our first downbeat as a summer concert series at Lincoln Center in 1987, to the fully orchestrated achievement of opening the world’s first venue designed specifically for jazz in 2004, we have celebrated this music and these landmarks with an ever-growing audience of jazz fans from around the world.

Representing the totality of jazz music, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s mission is carried out through four elements—educational, curatorial, archival, and ceremonial—capturing, in unparalleled scope, the full spectrum of the jazz experience.


In the mid-1980s, Lincoln Center, Inc. was looking to expand its programming efforts to attract new and younger audiences, and to fill its halls during the summer months when resident companies were performing elsewhere. Long-time jazz enthusiasts on the Lincoln Center campus and on the Lincoln Center Board recognized the need for America’s music to be represented, and lobbied to include jazz in the organization’s offerings. After four summers of successful Classical Jazz concerts, Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) became an official department of Lincoln Center in 1991. During its first year, JALC produced concerts throughout New York City, including Brooklyn and Harlem. By the second year, JALC had its own radio series on National Public Radio, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (now known as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) began touring, and recording and selling CDs. By its fourth year, the program reached international audiences with performances in Hong Kong and, the following year, in France, Austria, Italy, Turkey, Norway, Spain, England, Germany and Finland. In July 1996, JALC was inducted as the first new constituent of Lincoln Center since The School of American Ballet joined in 1987, laying the groundwork for the building of a performance facility designed specifically for the sound, function and feeling of jazz.


“The whole space is dedicated to the feeling of swing, which is a feeling of extreme coordination,” explained Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis of his vision for the new home of jazz, or the “House of Swing.” “Everything is integrated: the relationship between one space and another, the relationship between the audience and the musicians, is one fluid motion, because that’s how our music is.” Under Marsalis’s direction, JALC sought out world-renowned architect Rafael Viñoly and a team of acoustic engineers to create Frederick P. Rose Hall, the world’s first performance, education and broadcast facility devoted to jazz, in New York City. As the centerpiece of a $131 million capital campaign drive, the 100,000-square-foot facility opened in fall 2004 and features three concert and performance spaces (Rose Theater, The Appel Room and Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola) engineered for the warmth and clarity of the sound of jazz.

Over the past three decades, Jazz at Lincoln Center has become an important advocate for jazz, culture, and arts education globally. Key milestones in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s 30 year history include:

  • A global audience of nearly 2 million people of all ages and experiences through concerts, webcasting, musical instruction and distribution of music scores, the vast majority of which is free of charge;
  • More than 648,280 participants in the Essentially Ellington program, including the JLCO’s own Carlos Henriquez;
  • Online viewership of more than 330,000 people from more than 150 countries since the launch of the free concert webcast series during the 25th anniversary season;
  • Over 148,000 students in the last year were a part of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s education programs, many of whom had no other access to quality music education;
  • More than 1,200 original concerts in the New York City area;
  • Tours in over 446 cities in 41 countries on five continents.

“Throughout history, jazz musicians have inspired and have been inspired by many art forms to create new works and express cultural statements. For 30 years, Jazz at Lincoln Center has continued that tradition through our programs. Today, we remain committed to jazz which reveals the best of American culture with its virtuosity, diversity, soulfulness, and an embracing spirit under all circumstances,” says Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis.