In the city of San Francisco the SFJAZZ Center is a remarkable place to go for a performance. The place is pretty new, opening some 3 1/2 years ago. The building can put on large and small shows (at the same time). The Joe Henderson Lab seats up to 100. Upstairs, the state-of-the-art Miner Auditorium is almost 10 times bigger and can seat up to 700-some. The building is downtown at Franklin & Fell, just 4-5 blocks behind the War Memorial Opera House.
The Joe Henderson Lab is small enough to get away with no sound amplification. This lets you go directly mano-a-mano with the performers, that is, acoustically. In this era of all-to-many occasions of sound boards that amped up the instruments and had them playing over the vocalists, this room gives a much better chance for a balanced performance. Furthermore, if the amps are out of the way (or only minimally on), the true quality of the instruments and singer come through. The show last Tuesday was singer-trumpeter Bria Skonberg with a trio accompaniment. (See our review here.) The sound balance was delightful; no one played over anyone else. The performers and the sound quality were great.
The bigger auditorium, Miner, is an impressive, gleaming array. This writer has not been to a show there, but it has all the modern promise. Take a look at the media images on the SFJAZZ Center site. The SFJAZZ organization also uses other auditoriums in the area. Take a close look at the events calendar to see where any particular show will happen.
The staff at the Center is completely organized: tickets, programs, ushering, CD sales, refreshments. Everything flows smoothly.
Getting to the building provokes some real thought. The location has good BART & bus access (also listed on the Center web site). You would consider this point seriously, as the drive & parking can take a magician’s touch. A good point is the Hayes Valley area of the center, with several nice places to eat. If you drive and don’t catch street parking (largely free after 6 pm) there are parking garages.
Try clicking here to the center web site for more details and good photos of the place. If you don’t quite understand the site layout, you can always try a direct Google query (example, “SFJAZZ Center food service…”) to help cut through the site map layers. The web site will give the full lineup of the summer program performances for you. Note that if you want to buy tickets, you will have to click all the way through to the “buy” step to be sure the event is not sold out.