New SFJAZZ Center Gains Finely Tuned Sound and Versatility with Help from Avid

When Randall Klein, executive artistic director of the San Francisco Jazz Organization, started planning a new home for the renowned institution, he presented a long list of diverse requirements to the architects at Mark Cavagnero Associates. Klein’s vision called for a highly versatile 700-seat hall that could be easily reconfigured to accommodate more intimate 300-seat performances. He also wanted full production capabilities and the acoustics of a high-end performing arts center, with the feel and intimacy of a jazz club.

Recognizing that Klein’s lofty objectives would pose a number of unique challenges, Sam Berkow and the team at SIA Acoustics—a sound design and consulting firm whose award-winning work can be seen and heard at Jazz at Lincoln Center in NYC and the Pearl at the Palms Concert Hall in Las Vegas—was immediately called in to assist with the planning.

Possessing an enviable wealth of experience, the SIA team’s skill is matched by a zeal for new technology and a commitment to keeping up with the professional audio industry’s best offerings. For the SFJAZZ Center, SIA recommended three class-leading products—an Avid VENUE Profile System for FOH, a VENUE SC48 console for monitors, and a Meyer Sound MINA Compact Line Array for the main stage.

“The VENUE consoles offer a number of features that I really like,” explains Berkow, principal and founding partner of SIA. “They’re incredibly easy to operate, which frees the engineers to really focus on the music. I also like the plug-in architecture because it allows people to bring their own iLoks, which helps establish immediate [sound processing and show file] familiarity and comfort for visiting engineers.”

Berkow continues, “The VENUE [systems] also provide a degree of flexibility that you don’t find in other consoles. I’ve never run into a situation where I can’t find a creative way to do something. With the VENUE consoles, there are always options—unique workflows waiting to be discovered. They’re truly impressive and well-designed systems.”

For the acoustics, Klein wanted a highly nuanced sound that leaned heavily toward the natural projection from the stage, augmented by a subtle and tonally neutral support from the PA. This included minimal reflections from the rear walls and plenty of diffusion for recording purposes. He also wanted the facility to be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of musical styles.

“From an acoustical point of view, jazz halls are very different from halls designed for rock music,” Berkow observes. “In a jazz hall, you need to support cross-stage communication so that the performers can hear themselves and each other. In a rock venue, the sound on stage is almost irrelevant to the audience. Most of the sound is from a sound system, not the stage.“

For loudspeakers, the SIA team ultimately selected a Meyer Sound-based system that includes left and right MINA line array clusters with 16 MINA elements in each cluster. They also installed two side-fill clusters of Meyer JM-1s. An additional center cluster includes five Meyer 500-HP subwoofers in cardioid formation. Three subs fire forward, while the remaining two fire backward. Two Meyer Sound Galileo systems handle the system processing.

“That may sound like a lot of speakers,” Berkow elaborates, “but as line arrays get longer, we’re better able to reduce the amount of sound on stage and provide better overall directional characteristics.

“The unique sub-configuration places the null on the stage, which makes it much easier for the musicians to hear each other, and makes for cleaner recordings. It’s also incredibly uniform around the major seating areas. The overall effect is really wonderful.”

The asymmetrical concert hall features balconies at stage right and opposite the stage, but no balcony on the left. A large 16 x 25-foot diffusion canopy, consisting of 68 individual diffusers, was installed to ensure a uniform sound field on stage and throughout the audience. In addition, a series of retractable batters on the upstage wall can be lowered into place to further attenuate energy as needed.

The facility also features a second 70-seat performance space with two different stage configurations and two glass walls. Also onsite is a classroom, practice rooms, and multiple green rooms. Acoustic treatment throughout ensures sufficient isolation for the multi-use facility.

The main performance hall and the secondary 70-seat performance space are wired for recording and future flexibility with fiber, CAT5, and CAT6 cabling pre-installed. A small tracking room houses a Pro Tools|HDX system and ICON D-Command control surface.

“Overall I think we achieved the overall tonal characteristic we were looking for while providing a level of flexibility that very few spaces can offer,” Berkow conscludes. “I’m really pleased that SFJAZZ will be able to celebrate their 30th year in style at this new facility. It was a lot of fun, and our team was really honored to be part of the project.”