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NYU Tisch Renames Theater in Memory of Beloved Jazz Figure Jack Crystal, Father of Billy Crystal

Tuesday, Nov 10, 2015

Ceremony is part of the school’s 50th anniversary celebration

In recognition of the ongoing support provided by the family of actor, director, comedian, writer, and Tisch alumnus Billy Crystal, Tisch Dean Allyson Green today officially renamed its theater at 111 Second Avenue the “Jack Crystal Theater,” in memory of Crystal’s father, jazz impresario Jack Crystal.

From 1949 to 1963,  Jack Crystal, manager of the famed Commodore Music Shop and Commodore Records executive, held legendary jazz concerts known as “The Sessions” at 111 Second Avenue. Featured performers included Conrad Janis, Willie “The Lion” Smith, Hot Lips Page, Pee Wee Russell, Roy Eldridge, and Billie Holiday. He was one of the first producers to integrate bands and was lovingly referred to as the “The Branch Rickey of Jazz.”  Commodore Records was a true pioneer in jazz recordings, with a notable catalog including Billie Holiday’s groundbreaking and timeless “Strange Fruit.” It was at 111 Second Avenue that five-year old Billy first took to the stage to entertain an audience, launching a lifelong career in entertainment. 

In 1968, the same building became the first home to the School of the Arts where Crystal studied Film & TV, receiving his BFA in 1970. Funds received from the 2010 Tisch gala honoring Billy Crystal supported the modernization of what is now known as the Jack Crystal Theater on the building’s 5th floor.

“The Crystal family history is woven into these walls. Jack Crystal filled this space with joy. He daringly paired integrated teams of artists in this theater night after night, and along the way, exposed his son to a rich history in the arts. We’re enormously proud to count that son, Billy Crystal, as an alumnus, and we are grateful to Billy and his wife, Janice, for the tremendous generosity they have shown to our students year after year,” said Dean Green. “The Jack Crystal Theater honors the legacy of the entire Crystal family, and is a place in which we will continue to develop and support new artists for years to come.”

“My family and I are moved and honored that this theater is now named for my father.  Jack Crystal was a rare man who devoted his life to the nurturing of great musicians and their music. The thought that young artists will grow and express themselves in this space is incredibly powerful to me," said Billy Crystal.

The Jack Crystal Theater provides performance and rehearsal space to students in the school’s Institute of Performing Arts. Central Plaza was built in 1928, with apartments on the upper floors and piano store on the main floor where George Gershwin practiced and composed. It was also the site of a successful catering business feeding and entertaining as many as 4,000 people each weekend. In 1949, Jack Crystal began producing legendary jazz concerts in the theater. Today, the building’s 200-seat theater still retains its original art deco stenciling and molding, coupled with state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment, facilitating almost 100 professional-grade performances annually.