Randall Kline, who founded SFJAZZ in 1983, has announced that he will be stepping down as its Executive Artistic Director in November 2023. The organization, initially named Jazz in the City, was created to present a two-day festival featuring Bay Area jazz musicians. Over the years, it grew to be one of the foremost non-profit jazz organizations in the country, in some ways mirroring what Jazz at Lincoln Center had established in New York City. It continues to host the San Francisco Jazz Festival, though it now takes place over two weeks in June.
In 2013, the award-winning SFJAZZ Center, with its multiple venues and community education space, was opened. In addition, since 2004 the organization has sponsored a performing group, the SFJAZZ Collective, which has toured and recorded frequently under the direction of various music directors such as Joshua Redman, Miguel Zenón, and Chris Potter. Each year the band devotes itself to the music of a noted composer, as well as commissioning new work from the group members. The current lineup includes Potter, Etienne Charles, Davíd Sanchez, Warren Wolf, Gretchen Parlato, Ed Simon, Matt Brewer, Kendrick Scott, and Martin Luther McCoy.
In 2015, Kline was named the first recipient of the Bruce Lundvall Visionary Award at the Jazz Connect Conference, co-organized by JazzTimes. The annual award was created in honor of its namesake, the longtime jazz record executive who was a champion and advocate for many jazz artists over the last four decades. It recognizes an individual who has demonstrated extraordinary leadership and vision in expanding the audience for jazz and who has made a real difference for the artists, the music, and the audience. Subsequent winners include Brice Rosenbloom, Christian McBride, Terri Lyne Carrington, Darlene Chan, and Barry Harris. The last three awards were presented at Jazz Congress, an event co-organized by Jazz at Lincoln Center and JazzTimes.
“While leaving SFJAZZ is a difficult decision — this place, in many ways, has been my baby — I cannot think of a better time to make this change as 2023 will mark the 40th anniversary of SFJAZZ and the 10th birthday of the SFJAZZ Center,” Kline said in a press release received at JazzTimes. “Most importantly, SFJAZZ is in a position of strength, with a great board, management team, and staff. It has been an extraordinary journey and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”
As part of the transition, the organization “will be undertaking a thorough strategic planning process over the next few months to address succession as well as other key areas for growth,” according to the press release. A formal search for a new artistic director will take place this summer.