Jazz at Lincoln Center has plans to expand abroad, creating a new jazz club in Doha, Qatar, and four other cities as part of an unusual partnership with the St. Regis chain of luxury hotels.
The new club opening in Doha, the capital city, next April will be the first time this nonprofit New York City jazz organization, known for presenting high-quality concerts and education programs at its Columbus Circle home, has established a permanent subsidiary abroad.
The 120-seat club is being built as part of a new $1 billion luxury hotel going up in Doha and will be modeled on Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in Manhattan, with the same curved interior walls, open sightlines, superb acoustics and glass exterior wall with a vista, except that it will overlook the Persian Gulf instead of Central Park.
With a small population and immense wealth from oil and gas reserves, Qatar has evolved into a cultural hub in the Middle East, as the ruling monarchy has invested money in education and the arts in an effort to diversify its economy. In 2008 the government opened the Museum of Islamic Art, a zigguratlike structure of white stone designed by I. M. Pei, and an orchestra, the Qatar Philharmonic, was formed in Doha. Last year the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art opened, with 6,000 works. For the past three years the Tribeca Film Festival has run a festival in Doha, which has a small pop music scene, including some jazz.
The Doha club is only the start, said Adrian Ellis, the executive director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. The group has reached an agreement with St. Regis Hotels and Resorts to open four more clubs in new hotels being built around the world over the next five years, though deals on specific sites have yet to be negotiated.
The Doha deal carries little risk for Jazz at Lincoln Center; the group will receive a percentage of ticket sales for booking jazz acts for the new space, as well as a percentage of the food and beverage sales.
For its part, St. Regis Hotels has persuaded a private developer in Qatar, Omar Alfardan, to invest $20 million to build the club, which will be called Jazz at Lincoln Center Doha. The hotel chain, owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, will employ the staff of the club and pay the fees and travel expenses for the musicians.
Mr. Ellis said the revenue from the Doha club would help support the organization’s educational programs, like the annual Essentially Ellington high school band competition and the Middle School Jazz Academy. The group has a $40 million operating budget, of which about $22 million comes from ticket sales, advertising and other earnings. Mr. Ellis estimated that the partnership with St. Regis Hotels would bring in an additional $1.5 million a year in earnings within five years, not counting the contributions Jazz at Lincoln Center might collect from Qatar’s well-heeled philanthropists if the program there becomes popular.
“For us it’s a contribution back to the bottom line,” he said. “We have a vast array of education programs and related programs that don’t generate a surplus, so we are always looking for new sources of income to support those. But it’s also about reaching new audiences.”
Wynton Marsalis, the virtuoso trumpet player who has long been the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, said the financial windfall mattered less than the opportunity to spread American culture and to introduce new audiences to jazz.
He said he would initially focus on sending musicians to Doha who are comfortable playing the role of cultural ambassador. The first showcases will have educational themes, he said, highlighting, for instance, important players from New Orleans or different periods in jazz history.
“When we work with our partners, it’s not cut-throat, cold-blooded business deals that we are trying to strike,” he said. “We are trying to strike mutually beneficial deals that allow us to prosper in a community sense.”
Paul James, the global brand leader for St. Regis Hotels, said the partnership fits well with his company’s attempt to use jazz to market its brand, tapping into the history of the original St. Regis Hotel, on East 55th Street, where jazz figures like Count Basie and Duke Ellington played during the height of the swing era.
The luxury chain has been expanding rapidly over the past four years, doubling the number of its hotels to 24. There are eight properties scheduled to open in the next six months, Mr. James said. Turning over the artistic programming at clubs in some hotels to Jazz at Lincoln Center makes good business sense, not only giving the hotel’s clubs a classy imprimatur but also ensuring that the musicians are first-rate, he said.
“You can make a jazz club, but you can’t make a Jazz at Lincoln Center jazz club,” Mr. James said. “That sense of quality and professionalism and the talent of that musician pool is untouchable.”
Mr. James said he approached Jazz at Lincoln Center about the possibility of a partnership in October 2010. The timing was fortunate, Mr. Ellis said. He and Mr. Marsalis had been talking to some of the organization’s board members about establishing a more permanent presence in other cities, replicating the acoustic experience audiences have had since Jazz at Lincoln Center moved into the Time Warner Center in 2004 and raised $131 million to build three high-tech performance spaces.
“St. Regis pitched us our idea,” Mr. Ellis said.
Mr. James said the pieces of the deal came together quickly because Mr. Alfardan, the real estate developer who owns the new hotel in Doha, is a jazz fan and eagerly embraced the proposal.
It is unclear where the future Jazz at Lincoln Center clubs will be built, Mr. James said. St. Regis has entered into talks with the owners and developers of several hotels in other American cities, China and Latin America.
Mr. Ellis said he was confident that at least four more clubs could be opened over the next five years, given the number of hotel projects in the St. Regis pipeline. If it is successful, the performance space in Doha could become a model for other partnerships with for-profit companies.
“If we are careful not to bite off more than we can chew, it could transform our business model,” Mr. Ellis said.
This article was originally published in The New York Times.