Jazz at its Best

May 1, 2007


Photo by Brad Feinknopf

At Broadway and 60th streets in New York City, the southwest corner of Central Park, is the world's first building designed acoustically for jazz performance. In only two years, thousands of audience members have enjoyed performances by hundreds of world-renowned jazz artists inside Frederick P. Rose Hall, home to the world's largest producer of jazz performances and educational programming, Jazz at Lincoln Center.

It is here that local audiences can enjoy the sounds of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, or special productions featuring Abbey Lincoln, Tony Bennett, Patti Austin, James Moody and Jimmy Heath on any of three stages inside Frederick P. Rose Hall. But jazz aficionados outside New York can experience the music produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center too. Live and pre-recorded performances are broadcast on XM Satellite Radio to an audience of more than 7.6 million subscribers and on Jazz at Lincoln Center Radio, which is broadcast to more than 240 stations across the United States.

Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) began as the Classical Jazz concert series in 1987. Concerts were produced by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis was hired as the artistic director. Throughout the next decade the organization grew and in 1998 it became a full constituent at Lincoln Center equal to The Julliard School, The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, New York Philharmonic and other famous performance companies.

But Jazz at Lincoln Center had no dedicated venues designed for its performance, education or audio recording. All recordings were produced using fly packs temporarily installed in dressing rooms and green rooms. Marsalis hoped to change this and began looking for a solution.

The old, unattractive New York Coliseum performance house on Manhattan's Upper West Side closed in the late 1980s and was scheduled for demolition. Columbus Circle was prime real estate, and in 1998 Mayor Rudolph Guiliani planned a neighborhood revitalization at Columbus Circle and stipulated the project contain a cultural element.

Opportunity knocked

Jazz at Lincoln Center's golden opportunity had arrived. In February 1998 Mayor Guiliani announced that Jazz at Lincoln Center would be that cultural element. It would be the first ever performance space designed specifically and acoustically for the sound of jazz. If this project found its way to completion, New York City would host the first place in the world built especially for jazz.

Control Room A is the heart of the audio recording facility and features a monitor view of the performance space. Photo by Courtney Spencer/SIA Acoustics.

But more than just blueprints and construction materials were needed for the formidable task of creating this unique piece of architecture. Dedication and passion for jazz were requirements for all who were involved. Bovis Lend Lease constructed the core and shell over two years. Then, for the next four years, Turner/Santa Fe Construction built the edifice. Jazz at Lincoln Center's board member Jonathon F.P. Rose and former CEO Hughlyn F. Fierce oversaw construction and kept it on time and on budget. Even the events of Sept. 11, 2001, didn't interrupt the project or fundraising efforts as the JALC dream inched closer to completion.

Marsalis had played at European opera halls whose sound was superior to any American concert house. The performance space for jazz had to be on the same level as an opera house. However, opera houses and concert halls are designed for symphonic music, unlike jazz that has bass, drums and cymbals playing continuously.

Rafael Viñoly Architects designed Frederick P. Rose Hall while several other specialists were brought in to consult: Russell Johnson of Artec Consultants; John Storyk of Walters-Storyk Design Group; Sam Berkow of SIA Acoustics; and The Rockwell Group, who had designed the Neshui Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame contained within the space. The acousticians formed the team, “The Sound of Jazz.”

The rack room houses all the Pro Tools interfaces as well as some processing and monitoring equipment. Photo by Courtney Spencer/SIA Acoustics.

The biggest problem for The Sound of Jazz to solve was extraneous sound. The Frederick P. Rose Hall site was surrounded by noise: the subway below, the towers above, and the traffic and street life around it. Sound isolation was the key element in the design of this futuristic venue. In addition, the acoustical designs of the performance spaces had to support amplified and unamplified performances.

The solution was a “floating box-in-box construction” for the largest venue, Rose Theater, with no rigid structural connections to the rest of the hall. Rose Theater, one of the three performance halls, sits on rubber and steel isolation pads to minimize the noise from the outside, creating a quiet and intimate space. Rose Theater achieves a noise control level of N1, which virtually eliminates ambient noise. The design allows for exceptional acoustic isolation making the theater an ideal place to create recordings for live and tracked productions. Also, the natural room sound can be “tuned” by adjusting an acoustic curtain and banner system. More than 50 curtains can be deployed or retracted to adjust the amount of natural ring-time.



Opening day

At the site of the old New York Coliseum, Frederick P. Rose Hall opened on Wynton Marsalis' birthday, Oct. 18, 2004. At a cost of $131 million to build, it is 100,000 square feet in size and includes three performance venues, three control rooms, one recording studio, an an education center and a hall of fame.

Control Room B has a similar equipment complement, but in a more intimate space. Photo by Courtney Spencer/SIA Acoustics.

The flexible 1,100- to 1,233-seat Rose Theater is designed specifically for jazz, but accommodates opera, dance, theater, film and orchestral performances. It is equipped with a 35mm film projector and a Christie high-definition digital projector, a large projection screen measuring 25' high by 55' wide, custom JBL speakers and Dolby Surround Sound — all designed and donated by Time Warner. Other performance venues include The Allen Room, a 500-seat performance space; and Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, an intimate 140-seat jazz club for ensemble performances and daytime educational events.

Control Rooms A and B are located in the studio complex attached to the recording studio and radio broadcast booths. Control Room C is at the rear of Rose Theater. Control Room A was designed by John Storyk of The Sound of Jazz team. It features a live-room feel and transfers to radio and TV. The room is built with hardwood floors, soft-paneled absorbing walls, oak diffusion paneling at the rear, and a raised “living room” sitting area behind the console area with a large plate glass window overlooking 60th Street. It has gained a reputation as one of the finest 5.1 mix/broadcast rooms in the city. Skyline diffusers, low frequency absorption panels and curtain systems are used to control the natural sound in all control rooms and performance venues.

Performances are broadcast live and pre-recorded for radio and TV, and nearly all are recorded for archive. The audio signal path is clean and simple. The microphone signal hits the preamp on the side of the stage and is converted to digital (96kHz, 24 bit) and passed through fiber optics to a router that feeds multiple recorders and mixers in the studios.

The Allen Room, a 500-seat performance space in Frederick P. Rose Hall, has views of Central Park through a 50'' by 90'' glass wall. Photo by Brad Feinknopf.

Routers can be configured to monitor and mix directly from the stage from the recorders' outputs. The mix created from one of the three control rooms passes back down fiber to an XM Broadcast Operations digital router in the Technical Operations Center, TOC, to provide a digital or analog broadcast. The mix is also returned via fiber to the stage, converted to analog and routed to the press pit for media coverage.

Digidesign's Icon (integrated console) and Pro Tools were chosen for all three broadcast control rooms due to their powerful, customizable and universal user interface. High-resolution audio can be recorded, edited, mixed and mastered in one environment, including total recall of all parameters, with a click of a button. The three systems are virtually identical, allowing technicians to recall any session in any room. For example, a sound check in Control C on Thursday, and mixed for broadcast on Saturday night in Control A, requires a simple fiber patch, hard drive mounting and button press. All signal processing is accomplished using software plug-ins. Three control rooms enable three simultaneous broadcasts from all three performance halls.

All seven Pro Tools recorders and mixers access the 4.2TB SNS fiber channel hard-drive array for media storage. This enables easy access from all points and the ability to share audio from multiple-mix rooms in a large recording/broadcast or post production room. The three Pro Tools Icon systems contain seven HD accel cards for processing and 10 192 I/Os yielding 160 inputs and outputs on the mixers. Each of the four Pro Tools dedicated recorders can be configured for as many as 128 channels of recording. In total, there are 768 I/O paths and 32 accel cards.

There are 96 channels of Millennia HV-3D mic preamps and 96 channels of Grace M802 mic preamps comprising two 48-channel racks of each. Their outputs go into Apogee AD-16X A/D converters synched by Apogee Big Ben studio clocks. The AES signal is then sent into an RME ADI-648 or RME-6432 and converted into a single or multiple MADI stream and sent through fiber. Once in the Machine Room, the streams hit the routers and can be processed, mixed, recorded and passed on to nearly any location in the facility.

Remote-controlled Sony spycams pass their signals down fiber and into the Blackmagic Workgroup SDI Videohub. Pictures can then be routed to any monitor in the facility, as well as the three Virtual VTR Pro machines for archival recording.

Forty-eight Aviom 16-channel personal mixers are used for headphone monitoring in the studio or performance area. Cue mixes are passed to the stage and studio across fiber and into CAT6 cable for monitor distribution.

Shortly after the facility opened to the public, the JALC recording studios won the 2005 TEC Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement from Radio magazine's sister publication, Mix magazine. Attendees who enjoyed JALC's previous engagements love Frederick P. Rose Hall. The new space offers JALC new opportunities to bring modern audiences to the music, and reach audiences around the world with performances on XM Satellite Radio.

XM started broadcasting from Frederick P. Hall in May 2005. The program line-up included live performances from JALC featuring artists from a variety of formats. It also broadcasts other music channels from Fred erick P. Rose Hall including Real Jazz, Beyond Jazz, Audio Visions, On Broadway and Frank's Place featuring the music of Frank Sinatra and other standards artists.

Marsalis appreciates this arrangement. “Jazz at Lincoln Center and XM is a perfect fit because of the unlimited range of new music and educational programs.”

XM transmits all content originated at JALC to XM headquarters in DC. Joel Singer and Rob Macomber of XM Productions/Effanel Music designed the signal path from the microphone on stage to the recorders and mixers, and on to broadcast operations. Specific equipment was chosen to capture and convert with the highest resolution possible. Single-mode fiber moves all audio and video around the facility. Canare AES cable is used to carry digital and analog audio within the studio complex. CAT6 is used for Aviom personal monitor mixes.

Two AES audio streams from XM Productions pass through sample rate converters to downsample from 192kHz, 96kHz or 48kHz to XM's standard of 44.1kHz. The AES outputs of the converter go into a Klotz audio engine/router, then routed by fiber to the Klotz console in an XM Radio studio in the JALC facility for live broadcast. An AES stream can also be sent to a codec for transmission to Washington, DC. IP streams are integrated onto a Gigabit Ethernet LAN, then passed to Washington via an OC3 on a 155 megabit connection. In Washington a matching codec converts the IP to an AES stream that feeds a Klotz audio engine/router, which routes the audio to the studio via fiber, or to an uplink encoder for transmission to the satellite.

Inside Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center will provide the world with high-quality jazz performance throughout the next millennium. Like the greatest concert halls found in the United States and around the world, New York City now has an equally comparable — if not better — venue to experience an original American music form.


Singer is a freelance author and former radio engineer based in Cincinnati. Unless noted, photos by Courtney Spencer/SIA Acoustics.


JALC Partial Equipment List

Adam A7, S3A, S4A, S6A MKII, SUB10
AKG 112, 414 TLII, 414 ULS, 426 Stereo, 535, C12VR, C418 PP, C419 PP, C451 B, CK 97CVR, SE 300B
Aphex 120A
Apogee AD-16x
Audio-Technica AE2500, AE5400, AT4047/SV, AT4050, AT4073A, ATM35
Aviom AN-16i, A-16II
Crane Song Phoenix
Digidesign Icon, Pro Tools
DK Audio MSD600C/5.1 Meter
Dolby 570 Surround Monitoring
DPA 3521, 4006TL, 4011
Empirical Labs Distressor
Eventide Anthology Bundle
Focusrite Forte Suite
Grace M802R
Griffin USB-Audio Hub
HHB CDR830+
Lexicon 960L
Lucid CLK6, SRC9624
Meyer Monitor System M-1D
Middle Atlantic racks
Millennia HV-3D/RP Remote Mic Pre
Neumann KM143, KM183, KM184, KM185, M149, SKM140, TLM 170R
Neve 33609/JD
Royer Labs R-122, Labs SF-24
Sanken CUW-180 Double cardioid
Sennheiser 865, e902, e904, MD421, MKH800
Shure 52 ODX, 55SH, Beta 52, Beta 56, Beta 58, Beta 98 D/S, Beta 98 H/C, MX 412 SE/C, MX 418/C, SM 57, SM 58, SM 58S
Sony MDR-7506, R-500
Studio Technologies Model 65
Tascam DS-D98
TC Electronic System 6000, MD4
TC Master Works
Telefunken U 47M - EF14 tube
Waves 360 Bundle
Yamaha DM2000 Digital Console



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