Think jazz club, and you picture a dimly lit, smoke-filled basement with patrons standing shoulder to shoulder. On October 18, with the opening of Rose Hall in New York-the new official home of Jazz at Lincoln Center (J@LC)-how you experience jazz will be forever changed. The $128 million cultural beacon is now the world’s premier jazz multimedia facility, with three performance spaces, classrooms and recording studios. [PARA]
Wynton Marsalis, 43, is the visionary behind the state-of-the-art center and is the artistic director of J@LC. He spoke to Essence between tours for his latest solo work, The Magic Hour, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra’s European concert run. He shared the growing pains of bringing Rose Hall to life and the correlation between jazz and basketball.

Essence: The new home of J@LC marks an exciting time for the genre. What does this milestone mean for jazz music and education?

Wynton Marsalis: First, it’s important for our culture to have a place for jazz that celebrates its great musicians. And Rose Hall is about the integration of the arts through the spirit of jazz. You know there still remains the mythology that jazz is only played in clubs. But J@LC has always collaborated with ballet companies, symphony orchestras, film and various education branches, and our new home consolidates that effort under one roof.

Essence: Tell us the biggest challenge and brightest moment in helping create this center.

Marsalis: When we set out to build Rose Hall we started and ended with a single vision. There have been several challenges such as raising money and coordinating schedules. One of my brightest moments has been seeing how our board of directors has responded. Everyone involved — from the consultants, architects, acousticians and construction workers — has taken such pride in building this hall. It has been an invigorating experience to see people come together like this. It has been a labor of love.

Essence: What has the music taught you, a jazz musician, about life and yourself?

Marsalis: One, you can’t make it by yourself. Two,  it’s all right to be yourself. Three, you have to put love into something in order for it to be worthwhile.  Four, it’s important to have integrity.

Essence: You love basketball. Do you see parallels between that sport and jazz?

Marsalis: There are many parallels, from understanding team sportsmanship to learning to make individual choices in heated moments of pressure.

Essence: What else are you passionate about?

Marsalis: Books. I’ve been reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. I return to this book often. I’m also reading Bryan Magee’s The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy about Richard Wagner, the nineteenth-century composer.