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Music Center Gives Jazz a Major Gig

Partnership: The Thelonious Monk Institute becomes an affiliate. Herbie Hancock will be artistic director of the $1.2-million program.

May 28, 1997|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Music Center of Los Angeles County and the Washington-based Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz have entered into a partnership to establish a significant new jazz presence at the downtown arts complex.

The institute will combine with the Music Center to present performances and establish educational programs for the community, beginning in September. Pianist-composer Herbie Hancock, a major jazz figure whose credentials reach back to the Miles Davis ensembles of the '60s, has been appointed artistic director of the program by the partnership.

The announcement of the affiliation was made Tuesday by Thelonious Monk Jr., chairman of the Monk Institute; Thomas R. Carter, the institute's president; and Sheldon I. Ausman, chairman of the Music Center Operating Co. in a press conference at the Music Center. In the planning stages for more than a year, the partnership significantly enhances the role of jazz in Los Angeles, while providing further visibility for the Monk Institute's growing role as one of the country's most effective proselytizers for jazz and jazz education.

The program for the first year's events--while still in development--already includes three major concerts at the Music Center; a History of Jazz performance/lecture series; an expansion of the institute's Jazz Sports LA program in the public schools; and a wide variety of seminars, symposiums and educational programs.

According to Monk, "This new partnership is a crown jewel in my father's hat. We hope to accomplish what Thelonious was never able to see during his lifetime--a worldwide respect for the music and the ability to bring this national treasure into the lives of hundreds of thousands of people each year."

This program, Carter added, has the potential to elevate jazz and jazz education to a level equal to the resident performing arts organizations at the Music Center--the Center Theatre Group, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the L.A. Opera and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Hancock believes the partnership will generate a long overdue acknowledgment of the music and will significantly impact jazz in Los Angeles. "Not since the days of West Coast jazz in the '50s has there been any real recognition of Los Angeles as a jazz center," he said. "But it is. And there are a lot of great players who are either from here, or who came here, who are extremely active--but not necessarily in L.A.

"We need to hear them here, and the kids in the schools need to hear them, and that's what this program can do. The combination of performance and education that we're building into it can have a terrific long-term effect."

Ausman said that the relationship with the Monk Institute will be similar to the long-term licensing agreement that exists with the Southern California Theatre Assn. (SCTA), which presents dance events. Although it will not be a resident company, the institute will have a place on the board of the Music Center Operating Co., will have a relatively free hand in the programming of concerts and educational activities, and will maintain offices and a staff at the Music Center.

"I see this as the first step toward a much more expansive program," Ausman said, "a natural growth opportunity for everyone in the jazz community. And it will be a totally cooperative relationship. The only difference between the Monk Institute's position at the center and that of the resident companies is that the resident companies are beneficiaries of funds from the Unified Fund Campaign, and the institute and the SCTA are not."

Despite the financial distinction between the resident and licensee associations, Ausman--who initiated the connection with the institute in talks that have taken nearly a year to reach fruition--anticipates no funding problems in getting the partnership up and running.

"The institute will conduct its independent fund-raising activities, which they have done with great success in the past," he said. "And there are many organizations and individuals--many of whom contribute to the Unified Fund--who would also love to contribute to jazz, and I can name many of them. So I don't see funding as any sort of problem at all."

The program--the institute's first such partnership with a municipal arts organization--will be funded in part by the institute; by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; by Nissan Motor Corp., a longtime institute supporter; and by a fund-raising campaign. Ausman is joining Robert Thomas, president of Nissan Motor Corp. USA, in co-chairing a fund-raising campaign, and an advance gift of $250,000 has been provided by Nissan toward the first year's anticipated operating expenses of $1.2 million.

"I've always loved jazz," Ausman said. "It's been a part of my life since I first heard Ella Fitzgerald sing at Jazz at the Philharmonic when I was a kid. I am especially pleased and proud to be a part of . . . providing the very best and most diversified programming to the people of Los Angeles County."

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