Jazz St. Louis Announces Grand Center Expansion, Launches $10M Campaign

Jazz St. Louis

Today Jazz St. Louis launched the public phase of a $10M campaign to reimagine and expand the jazz experience in St. Louis’ Grand Center arts district. With commitments of $5.8M to-date, work is already underway at 3540 Washington Boulevard, adjacent to Jazz at the Bistro.

The new larger facility will accommodate seating for 220,  add a lounge with additional seating for 75, greatly expand space for jazz education and provide room for Jazz St. Louis staff to reside in one location. The 150 seats currently offered regularly sell out and staff is located at the nearby Arts & Education Council building.

As reported by nextSTL in February, B.B. Kings Restaurant and Blues Club will anchor a renovated Missouri Theatre Building a block to the north. A stunning renovation of the Sun Theatre has recently been completed, and the Public Media commons at the Nine Network and St. Louis Public Radio is under construction.

Nearly two decades ago, Jazz at the Bistro was launched in a space that was once home to the Pope Cafeteria, and had seen other restaurants come and go. Grand Center, Inc. invited the late Barbara Rose to move her “Just Jazz” program from the Hotel Majestic in downtown St. Louis to the space and Jazz at the Bistro was born.

Now named Jazz St. Louis, the non-profit purchased the building that houses Bistro and the adjacent building at 3540 Washington from Grand Center, Inc. earlier this year. The three-story former Greenberg Van Doren Gallery Building was built in 1930 and has a footprint of 4,500sf according to city records.

Jazz St. Louis{the Greenberg Van Doren Gallery Building today}

“After analyzing jazz centers across the country and years of planning, we are primed to deliver a world class experience for fans of all ages to experience and study jazz,” Gene Dobbs Bradford, Executive Director of Jazz St. Louis stated in a press release. “We’re confident this redesign will place St. Louis among the top five jazz hubs in the world.” The expanded and improved facility is projected to nearly double attendance by 2017.

According to the release: The project became a reality as a result of leadership gifts by David & Thelma Steward, John & Alison Ferring, Centene Corporation, Ken & Nancy Kranzberg, Emerson, the Jazz St. Louis Board of Directors, and other jazz patrons in excess of $5.8 million. The remaining $4 million will be raised during the public phase of the capital campaign.

Jazz St. Louis{the performance space will be expanded and reoriented}

The main performance space will see the stage moved to the east wall, from the south, placing more people closer to the performers. The second floor balcony will be expanded as well. The Jazz Lounge will feature live video of performances for those wished to catch some jazz before visiting another Grand Center venue.

The jazz education and practice space will feature six soundproof, individual, and small group practice rooms and two large rehearsal studios. A recording studio will facilitate recording and live streaming performances to an online audience.

Jazz St. Louis{the lounge will allow those dropping in for a drink to view live performances}

Sam Berkow, acoustician for San Francisco’s SFJazz Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and other venues is responsible for sound design. The Lawrence Group has designed the space, Jamieson Design is responsible for the Bistro’s interior finishes, and BSI Constructors is managing the project.

Jazz St. Louis’ new and expanded facilities will be The Harold and Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz, housing the brand new Centene Jazz Education Center and the completely redesigned and renovated Ferring Jazz Bistro, home of the Jazz at the Bistro concert series.

“My parents, Harold and Dorothy Steward, were passionate advocates of arts and education,” said Dave Steward in a statement provided by Jazz St. Louis. “My wife, Thelma, and I are eternally grateful that the new facilities will represent their legacy and incorporate an educational pillar to enrich the jazz community.”

Construction is underway and is scheduled to be completed by October. Musician Wynton Marsalis has been booked for the inaugural concert for the newly redesigned space.

  • opendorz

    I know some Jazz purists will bristle, but I wish this venue would consider booking some of the more acclaimed musicians in the contemporary (aka, Smooth Jazz) genre. Why exclude such talented acts like Chris Botti, Brian Culbertson, Russ Freeman and Chuck Loeb to name a few? Hosting any of them would expand the overall Jazz fan base and that of the new Bistro.

  • BudSTL

    I cannot believe that some of you don’t think that this space is drop-dead gorgeous! Please bear in mind that much of the décor elements are actually serving a sonic improvement purpose as well. Jazz has laid low in dives for far too long in this country. Now, we have a first class “club” (i.e. tables, food, service, etc.) that is dedicated to serving the jazz community here. As for the avant-guard fans out there…other than The Bad Plus, it has been a terrible draw over the past ten years amongst this listener base. If the club doesn’t draw an audience, it surely won’t last long.

    • Man With Two Ears

      No one’s suggesting the Bistro should book musicians who won’t draw, but on the other hand, the contention that more adventurous stuff won’t play there seems based more on conjecture than actual evidence.
      In the last 10 years, they’ve had Lake, the World Sax Quartet, Osby (if
      you think he qualifies), Don Byron, and who else? All of those artists
      are in demand and able to draw adequately elsewhere. And with their local
      connections, you’d think Lake, Osby and WSQ would do well here, if properly marketed.
      (The Bad Plus are a good band, not the standard hard bop or Latin jazz group, but not really that “avant garde” either. Also, they get tons of press, not just in jazz magazines but other places, too, which helps them draw people who don’t come to other jazz shows.)
      With such a small sample size to use as a basis for evaulation, saying the present audience won’t enjoy more adventurous music is something of a tautology, isn’t it?
      Maybe Matthew Shipp or someone like that can’t fill 220 seats for eight shows in a week, but the Bistro deviates from the alternating eight-show/four-show schedule when it suits their purposes. It’s not like that method of scheduling is carved in stone. If they wanted to present more adventurous music, they could find ways to do so with bankrupting the organization.
      Their bookings reflect the tastes of the people involved, and that’s OK. But there are a lot of good musicians that St. Louis doesn’t get to hear, because they don’t fit the Bistro’s format, and the presenters that otherwise might host them have inadequate facilities and/or too-small budgets.

      • Man With Two Ears

        Sorry, the third-to-last sentence should say “_without_ bankrupting the organization.” Oh, for an edit function…

      • T-Leb

        Well, it’s good to have more and more venues in StL. In the last few years good things have been happening. Hopefully more and more music will flow into StL that didn’t before.

  • dempster holland

    my vote is for more Dixieland Jazz

  • Luftmentsch

    I don’t think people realize what an important institution Jazz St. Louis has become. Chess gets all the press these days (even though they get 1/10 the audience). Meanwhile, the Bistro has been getting one “grand master” after another. Christian McBride may be the greatest bassist that’s ever lived, and he keeps coming back to St. Louis as if it were his second home. I’ve seen pairings at the Bistro that happen almost nowhere else besides maybe New York. I agree that the new space is ugly as sin. What matters the most, however, is the acoustics, and that seems to be in good hands. The expansion also has big implications for community outreach, which has been one of the amazing success stories already. If only G.D. Bradford & Co. would take an interest in the Palladium and other pieces of disappearing Jazz history in St. Louis! But that may be asking for too much.

  • mc

    St. Louis is coming back. Every day there’s a positive news article on NextSTL. Thanks to all for making this possible. Grand Center seems to really be coming alive again.

    Special thanks to former mayor Vincent Schoemehl who heads Grand Center and Mayor Francis Slay for great city leadership. We’re getting back on track slowly but surely.

    • A big part of the renaissance is people actually talking about what’s going on. The next step is to get folks who don’t visit NextSTL, NabeDev, et al that information.

      If the local news spent just a portion of their daily broadcasts/print-space detailing these small but meaningful advances, I think you’d see a much stronger public opinion of the City’s current and future outlook in general.

      • mc


      • T-Leb

        The Everyday section of StL Post Dispatch use to be a good place to find music. That’s how I discovered Charlie Hunter in Garage a Trois playing Mississippi Nights years ago. Unfortunate the paper has become nothing more than a few pages of AP stories and Sports now.

        • BudSTL

          By my reckoning, only RFT has a decent music page anymore. Does anyone else out there have a different favorite?

    • flyover

      Ready, Fire, Aim.

  • ben

    Jazz is messy, ugly, and abstract, none if which describes this space. This is a place you host a symposium on the harmonic subtleties of Oliver Nelson’s 1967 compositions with a 200 slide powerpoint deck.

    • Adam

      oh, lord… so the building has to be messy, ugly and abstract too? maybe jazz st. louis could find themselves a nice condemned building somewhere.

    • moe

      Have you even listened to Jazz? It’s some coooool tunes.
      As for a slide presentation…..don’t be so negative. If our world renown St. Louis Symphony can perform to films such as Star Wars and Wizard of Oz, a powerpoint can also be part of the performance.

      • ben

        David Ware, Matthew Shipp, Jason Moran, Tom Jenkinson, Ethan Iverson, Greg Osby are some of the artists that I listen to…this place looks like a convalescent home for schmooooove music. All I’m saying is it should be much more like Off Broadway, much less like a business hotel conference room.

        • steve

          Jazz is the most sophisticated art form America has produced. Why must it be relegated to a smoky dump with an out-of-tune piano? Old paradigms die hard.

        • Man With Two Ears

          Jazz St. Louis will never book musicians like David Ware or Matthew Shipp, because the people in charge don’t like “avant garde” jazz, and they believe musicians working in that sub-genre won’t draw. The saxophonists Greg Osby and Oliver Lake, who both are from here originally and tour all over the world, have played the Bistro twice apiece in the last ten years, while Jeremy Davenport (who’s good at what he does, but very mainstream) gets invited home every year.
          This is despite St. Louis’ history as the home of the Black Artists Group (Lake, Julius Hemphill, Baikida Carroll, Floyd LeFlore, Hamiet Bluiett, et al), New Music Circle’s 50+ years of presenting experimental stuff, and a fairly healthy, though not huge, scene of young improvising musicians currently doing stuff in galleries, coffeehouses, and venues like LNAC, Black Space, and others.
          If anything, the expansion of the Bistro makes it less likely that they’ll book more adventurous music, because it will raise the economic consequences of a less-than-full house even higher.

  • T-Leb

    Best performances I saw at Jazz At The Bistro were: Hiromi and then John Scofield.

    • BudSTL

      I agree with your list, but you might add Matt Wilson, Russell Gunn, and The Bad Plus to the mix as well…

      • T-Leb

        I forgot to go see Charlie Hunter about two years ago… I haven’t seen the ones you listed. I will certainly go more once it is redone.

        • BudSTL

          Charlie was just at The Old Rock House last month. Great show. He is one of my favorites as well…

  • moe

    That looks just …simply beautiful. Wonderful addition to invigorate a much often forgotten aspect of music and the musical history of St. Louis

  • Presbyterian

    Grand Center continues to make progress toward becoming a vibrant arts neighborhood.