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At 30, What Does Jazz at Lincoln Center Mean?

Almost all of the artists set to perform this coming year on Jazz at Lincoln Center’s two major stages — the Rose Theater and the Appel Room — are over 50. Most will be playing a kind of jazz that’s in close contact with traditional bop, swing or New Orleanian jazz, and many concerts are focused on the repertoire of 20th-century figures like Morton, Thelonious Monk and Benny Goodman.

There will be one performance from Henry Threadgill, the avant-garde composer and Pulitzer Prize winner, but the point of the season is to establish a record, not to gaze at artistic horizons. (Mr. Marsalis does not personally book the acts at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the on-site venue that hosts smaller shows in abundance throughout the year; there is a bit more stylistic and generational breadth at that venue.)

Jazz at Lincoln Center typically sells out more than 90 percent of its seats for these major shows, so there is clearly a New York audience still interested in standard-issue jazz. Still, other performing arts centers have expanded their approach more willingly. In Washington, under the direction of the pianist Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center now books classic jazz heroes like Ron Carter alongside the rapper Q-Tip and the electric trio Harriet Tubman, whose improvised music sounds more like bluesy doom metal than bebop. In San Francisco, the SFJazz Center takes a similar tack.

Jazz at Lincoln Center’s decision to stay the traditionalist course has left a wide opening for other New York presenters — even as its nearly $50 million endowment gobbles up most of the city’s philanthropic jazz funding. This heterophony is, in fact, a good thing. It means diversity of artistic growth, and more points of contact for the public.


Jon Batiste, left, with Wynton Marsalis in a New York studio. Mr. Batiste studied a jazz canon Mr. Marsalis helped define.


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