Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola Features Legends, Established Artists and Emerging Talent
By Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor ZEALnyc, February 9, 2018
After the dust had settled from the 2000 demolishing of the once-touted, then-mocked New York Coliseum at Columbus Circle, the majestic twin-towered Time Warner Center rose from the ashes a few years later and revitalized the neighborhood as a go-to site for tourists. One of the most remarkable tenants to first move in was the then-burgeoning Jazz at Lincoln Center all-jazz, all-the-time organization. Its arts complex featured the marquee spaces, the concert Rose Hall (1,233 seats) and the smaller Appel Room (483 seats). But there was more significance in the vision. On October 18, 2014, renowned pianist Bill Charlap opened the intimate 140-seat Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. The nightspot runs on a daily basis with bookings that figure prominently into artistic director, trumpeter and jazz statesman Wynton Marsalis’ mission: to showcase emerging musicians, established artists and serve as a platform for the legends.
“What we do at Dizzy’s is balance our calendar so that we represent all the different colors of jazz from all the different generations,” says Jason Olaine, the JALC director of programming and touring who works in close connection with Marsalis. Originally the club was following the trend of most other jazz clubs in the city, by featuring acts that ran from Tuesday through Sunday. But by the time Olaine came on board first as consultant then as the director, the club had shifted from six nights to a maximum four nights per act, and sometimes even a single evening.
“We wanted to open up the club so that more artists would get the opportunity to play here,” says Olaine. “We’ve had a growing number of artists each year. Just as Wynton hoped the club would be, that’s become our programming philosophy: to nurture new talent.” He adds: “Cécile McLorin Salvant played Dizzy’s in her early years, and now she plays Rose Hall. But she still likes to come back to Dizzy’s to play in the smaller confines.”
There’s not only regular evening shows at 7:30 and 9:30, but the club has also organized late-stage nights that feature rising stars looking for performing opportunities. Case in point, Stephen Colbert’s bandleader Jon Batiste, who got his start playing the after-hour gigs Dizzy’s Club offers. The club also reserves some of its Monday nights for shows presented by college music programs—such as Berklee College of Music, Manhattan School of Music, William Patterson, Temple, Juilliard—as well as its once-a-month “Monday Nights With WBGO” that presents a new star with the jazz station’s host Rhonda Hamilton doing an introductory interview with the musician.
The day-to-day booking is handled by assistant director of programming Georgina Javor, the former artistic director at Swarthmore College in Bethesda, Maryland, who’s been on board since August 2014. “We do the programming as a team,” she says. “We sit together and all bring something different to the table to consider. We follow Wynton’s overall programming philosophy and integrate it into the club.”
At Swarthmore, Javor booked rock acts, kids programming, classical music and had a jazz series that featured five to six artists per year. Dizzy’s has been an invigorating challenge. She knew the DC area artists, so she’s had to become intimate with the jazz artists locally. “My connections here grow every day, especially with having to book 351 nights a year. I’ve been proactive in bringing new people here. We have the space, but even then it’s hard to get everyone who wants to perform here in. So we strike a balance of the new musicians with those established artists who want to return after a spell being away. We’re also into expanding our boundaries of music beyond the New York area by inviting national and international musicians.”
Javor says the club books in advance about eight to ten months (as opposed to a year and a half out at the larger Jazz at Lincoln Center venues). She also sets into motion special programming at Dizzy’s such as contributing to the organization’s annual Monk festival that happens in April. “Wynton felt that Monk is so important to the jazz canon that he wanted to celebrate him every year instead of just his 100th birthday last year,” says Javor.
As for the club itself, Dizzy’s is a beauty, perched on the fifth floor with a picturesque windowed view on Columbus Circle and Central Park beyond. “The musicians love playing here because the acoustics are so good,” says Olaine. “They appreciate it because we offer a platform for musicians to play their best.” He adds, “And the crowds, even the tourists, are here to listen. They’re not just here for a meal or to talk, they want to hear.”
Interiors of Dizzy’s Club; photos: Lawrence Sumulong.