The History of Jazz at Lincoln Center

Ever since our first downbeat as a summer concert series in 1987, Jazz at Lincoln Center has shared America’s music with an ever-growing audience of jazz fans from around the world. We seek to represent the totality of jazz music—educationally, curatorially, archivally, and ceremonially.

Jazz at Lincoln Center’s story begins in the mid-1980s, when Lincoln Center was looking to expand its programming efforts to attract new and younger audiences and fill its halls during the summer months when resident companies were performing elsewhere. Long-time jazz enthusiasts on the Lincoln Center campus recognized the need for jazz—America’s music—to be represented, and lobbied to include the genre in the organization’s offerings. 

After four summers of successful concerts under the Classical Jazz banner, Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) became an official department of Lincoln Center in 1991. During its first year, JALC produced concerts throughout New York City. By its second year, JALC had its own radio series on National Public Radio and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (now known as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, or JLCO) began touring, recording, and selling CDs. JALC began to reach international audiences, performing in Hong Kong during its fourth season and in France, Austria, Italy, Turkey, Norway, Spain, England, Germany, and Finland during its fifth. 

In July 1996, JALC was inducted as the first new constituent of Lincoln Center since The School of American Ballet joined in 1987, laying the groundwork for the construction of a performance facility designed specifically for the sound, function, and feeling of jazz. “The whole space is dedicated to the feeling of swing, which is a feeling of extreme coordination,” explained Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis of his vision for what would eventually become known as the House of Swing. “Everything is integrated: the relationship between one space and another, the relationship between the audience and the musicians, is one fluid motion, because that’s how our music is.” 

Under Marsalis’s direction, JALC sought out world-renowned architect Rafael Viñoly and a team of acoustic engineers to create Frederick P. Rose Hall, the world’s first performance, education, and broadcast facility devoted to jazz. As the centerpiece of a $131 million capital campaign, the 100,000-square-foot facility opened in fall 2004 and features three concert and performance spaces—Rose Theater, The Appel Room, and Dizzy’s Club—engineered for the warmth and clarity of jazz.

Over the past almost four decades, Jazz at Lincoln Center has become an important advocate for jazz, culture, and arts education globally. Each year, JALC reaches an audience of more than 3 million people of all ages and experiences through concerts, tours, musical instruction across our cadre of education programs, sheet music, recordings on our label Blue Engine, and live and VOD performances on our platform JAZZ LIVE. 

“Throughout history, jazz musicians have inspired and have been inspired by many art forms to create new works and express cultural statements,” Marsalis says. “For more than 35 years, Jazz at Lincoln Center has continued that tradition through our programs. Today, we remain committed to jazz, which reveals the best of American culture with its virtuosity, diversity, soulfulness, and an embracing spirit under all circumstances.”



Keep the music playing! Please support Jazz at Lincoln Center as we continue to entertain, enrich, and expand a global community for jazz through concerts, education, and advocacy for artists.