Jazz at Lincoln Center Launches Club in Qatar
Jazz at Lincoln Center, one of the nation’s leading jazz nonprofit organizations, will expand its reach significantly this week with the opening of a jazz club in Doha, Qatar, its first venue outside of New York City. The intimate 100-seat Jazz at Lincoln Center Doha, nestled within the new St. Regis Doha Hotel, is the first in a planned series of JALC-branded jazz clubs to be built in the United States and abroad over the next few years, the result of an unusual partnership between JALC and the St. Regis luxury hotel chain, part of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide.
The Doha club is based on the design of Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, one of three performance venues JALC operates in New York’s Time Warner Center. The Wynton Marsalis Quintet will play the inaugural performances during the club’s official opening from Oct. 5–8.
“Our mission is to increase the audience for jazz, and now we’re doing it on a worldwide basis,” JALC Board Chairman Robert J. Appel said. “It’s a good way to celebrate our 25th anniversary.” The St. Regis brand has a long association with jazz dating back to the days when the Count Basie Band used to appear nightly at the hotel’s Rooftop Ballroom in New York.
Marsalis, JALC’s managing and artistic director, described the project as a way of continuing the legacy of such jazz ambassadors as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck and Dizzy Gillespie. “Opening this club enables us to extend the joys of jazz to a broader audience,” he said. “Thanks to our unique partnership with St. Regis, Jazz at Lincoln Center is bringing a continuous lineup of world-class jazz artists and educators to the people of Qatar and to the guests of St. Regis Doha.” During his visit, Marsalis plans to lecture and perform at local schools and colleges.
The club was built with a $20 million investment by Qatari developer and jazz enthusiast Omar Alfardan. “We’re thrilled that Mr. Alfardan shares our vision of music as a way to find common ground,” Marsalis said. “Through his generous support, jazz has a welcoming home in the Middle East.”
Jazz at Lincoln Center Doha shares similar architectural features with Dizzy’s, including a window wall behind the stage with a view of the Arabian Gulf. Sam Berkow of SIA Acoustics, the same acoustic engineer responsible for the pristine sound at Dizzy’s, was retained as sound designer for the venue.
In recent years Qatar, with huge natural gas reserves and a relatively small, wealthy population, has become a popular destination for business and tourism. “Doha has a population of nearly 2 million—about 350,000 locals and more than 1.5 million expatriates,” said Tareq Derbas, a Jordanian-born American who serves as general manager of the St. Regis Doha.
“They have an extraordinary flow of tourists and immigrants who come to work there,” Appel said. “There are lots of people, and not a lot for them to do. And here we’re going to have a world-class jazz club. … [Qatari officials] wrote to me recently and said they are so happy that ‘high culture’ is coming to Qatar.” Appel said he expects the Doha club to draw top-flight jazz performers from the many American musicians who tour in Europe.
The business arrangement is expected to be a money-maker for JALC. The organization will collect royalties on food and beverage sales, as well as fees for advising the club on programming and other services, Appel said. JALC hopes to open more clubs in St. Regis hotels over the next year, with “at least three domestically and two abroad,” he said. Appel declined to specify which cities are under discussion until plans are finalized with Starwood.
Prior to its official opening, the club had a “soft” opening featuring the New York-based, Afro-Cuban-influenced Rodriguez Brothers, with Carlos Henriques from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on bass. All the performances have been sell-outs, Derbas said. “I went from table to table, and the comment I heard from our guests was, ‘We feel like we’re in New York.’”
Following the Marsalis Quintet, other artists currently booked to play JALC Doha include pianist Jonathan Batiste, saxophonist Myron Walden and pianist Eric Reed’s quintet.
Henriques, interviewed from Doha, said he’s looking forward to doing a “jazz talk” at a local school. “The outreach program is very valuable,” Henriques said. “Just as we did when we went to Cuba, we will have interchanges with local students. This cultural expansion is a good thing, not only for America but for jazz. We need this stuff in our world. This type of cultural exchange is what enables people to understand and love one another. Music transcends all the politics.”