A jazz concert is unlike any other live performance: experience is everything. Jazz clubs historically lend to the history of the cities where they were built. Embedded in their floors are footsteps of legends. You can almost smell the cigarette smoke, perfume and spilled whiskey leftover from decades past. Here’s a list of the jazz clubs that locals will tell you are the gems of their cities.
Best Jazz Clubs in the U.S.
1. Yoshi’s - Oakland, CA
Founded as a sushi bar in 1972 by namesake Yoshie Akiba and her best friends Kaz Kajimura and Hiroyuki Hori, Yoshi’s is now a 17,000 square-foot, 310-seat venue in Oakland’s Jack London Square. Yoshi’s is known as the West Coast’s preeminent jazz spot, and “one of the best jazz clubs in the world” according to guitarist Kenny Burrell. Recent performers include the world famous Glen Miller Orcestra and contemporary jazz pianist and composer Keiko Matsui.
In the coming season, Yoshi’s offers entertainment every night – including an already sold-out performance in January by Tower of Power and a show featuring Pete Escovedo and the Latin Jazz Orchestra in February.
Address: 510 Embarcadero West / Jack London Square / Oakland, CA 94607
2. Kingston Mines - Chicago, IL
Formed in 1969 and located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, Kingston Mines started out as a theater; in fact, the original version of “Grease” premiered at the venue before moving to Broadway. Now a world-renowned nightclub, it prides itself on being the only spot in the world where you can find two bands playing live on two stages across the room from one another.
The club and its kitchen are open 365 days per year, often featuring holiday events to draw a crowd. Kingston Mines also offers free admission to military, police and firefighters, and for those 65+ looking to relive the glory days of blues, cover is reduced on weekends. Regular performers include Carl Weathersby and Joanna Connor. Look out for performances by Vance Kelly and Toronzo Cannon in coming months.
Address: 2548 N. Halsted / Chicago, IL 60614
3. Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola - New York City, NY
An upscale venue run by Jazz @ Lincoln Center, the programming at Dizzy’s, - described by New York Magazine as “modern, but not too avant” - is varied and eclectic. This season, dozens of renowned performers including Ibrahim Maalouf, Nicholas Payton, and Caili O’Doherty appear on the stage. And speaking of the stage, it could be your main incentive to visit: a glass wall overlooking Central Park and the Manhattan skyline serves as the band’s backdrop.
Recent performers include Christian McBride, Kenny Barron and Dan Tepfer.
Address: 33 W. 60th, 5th floor / New York, NY 10020
4. Baker’s Keyboard Lounge – Detroit, MI
Founded more than 80 years ago, it’s no surprise that Baker’s Keyboard Lounge is known as Michigan’s “jazz mecca.” The intimate venue only holds 99 guests at a time, but it has a history of presenting major acts; Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan performed at the club in the ‘50s, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis appeared at Baker’s, and Art Tatum gave his final performance at the venue a few months before his death.
Recent performers include Sandra Bomar and Tony Camillett. This season’s offerings include the D.W. Quintet, Gerard Gibbs and Gene Dunlap.
Address: 20510 Livernois Ave. / Detroit, MI 48221
5. Preservation Hall - New Orleans, LA
A venue dedicated to maintaining the significance of traditional New Orleans jazz, Preservation Hall calls itself a cornerstone of its community. The venue (which boasts its own house band, the acclaimed Preservation Hall Jazz Band) has every right to do so: from protecting the city’s history to expanding cultural awareness to creating outreach programs for Hurricane Katrina victims, New Orleans has a few reasons to be thankful for Preservation.
This year’s Preservation Hall Ball, curated to benefit the Preservation Hall Foundation, featured Corey Glover, Meshel Ndegeocello and Ivan Neville among a few local favorites. Next season’s offerings include The Southern Syncopators and trumpeter Mark Braud. Be sure to stop in during your next trip to the French Quarter!
Address: 726 St. Peter Street / New Orleans, LA 70116
6. Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley - Seattle, WA
As if the music wouldn’t draw you in off the streets of Seattle, the smell of Chef Rhoneil Aala’s kitchen creations just might. The Jazz Alley’s upscale menu lends to its cultured atmosphere, which also helps owner John Dimitriou keep the club going strong… “Who wants to drink on an empty stomach anyway?” he says. Home of the Pacific Jazz Institute, Jazz Alley has seen the likes of Catherine Russell and the John Pizzarelli Quartet in recent months, and looks forward to hosting Bobby Caldwell and Mindi Abair next season.
Performances are scheduled earlier in the night to accommodate families, and cover charges are waived for kids. Be sure to enjoy both the menu and the Pacific Jazz Institute during your stay in Seattle.
Address: 2033 6th Ave. / Seattle, WA 98121
7. James Street Gastropub - Pittsburgh, PA
Between the 1920s and 1960s, a jazz Renaissance took place in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. Jazz giants from Erroll Garner to Mary Lou Williams became legends thanks to the clubs and ballrooms in the area, which was known as a hub for African-Americans. Despite steady economic decline since the 1950s, the Hill District spirit is still alive. Some jazz aficionados are working to restore the New Granada Theater, where legends like Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington once played – and establishments nearby like the James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy are still going strong.
With its menus made of old LP covers and its lineup booked solid for months, James Street is an easy bet for great music. Ernie Krivda and Roger Humphries have recently taken the stage, while Don Aliquo and Nicholas DeCesare appear at the pub in coming months.
Address: 422 Foreland Street / Pittsburgh, PA 15212
8. Green Mill Jazz Club - Chicago, IL
The Art Deco styling of the Green Mill could be the first thing to catch your eye. But perhaps even more interesting is its reputation. The club, a once-famous hangout for movie actors, was owned at a time by Al Capone’s goon Jack McGurn, who once slashed the throat of a singer-comedian for not taking his act to the Green Mill. You can still sit in Al Capone’s favorite booth, upholstered in green velvet, and take in the sounds.
Recent performers include the Laurence Hobgood Trio and regular organist Chris Foreman. Stop in to hear the Patricia Barber Quartet or the Alan Gresik Swing Shift Orchestra on your next trip to the Windy City.
Address: 4802 N. Broadway Ave. / Chicago, IL 60640
9. The Jazz Bakery - Culver City, CA
The Jazz Bakery has a simple concept. It’s a “serious, no-frills, seven-nights-a-week listening room where everybody who’s anybody has played,” according to LA Weekly. The non-profit club was founded by jazz musician Ruth Price in the early 1990s, and her artistic vision has brought it to great acclaim since then. Known as one of the greatest venues (of jazz or any other genre) in LA, the Jazz Bakery came from small beginnings and has grand visions for the future, including a new black-box theater space, currently in the works.
In the meantime, patrons are encouraged to experience the Jazz Bakery’s innovative Moveable Feast series at different venues around the city. The past few Moveable Feast events have featured Charles Lloyd and the Alan Broadbent Trio, while the Jazz Bakery anticipates world-class performances from Carla Bley and Paquito D’Rivera in 2016.
Address: 1836 Benedict Canyon Dr. / Beverly Hills, CA 90210
10. The Beehive - Boston, MA
The Beehive consistently rakes in positive reviews from critics and fans alike. Downbeat Magazine calls it one of the best jazz spots in the world, while The New York Times considers The Beehive a must-see. An eclectic space in the fashionable South End neighborhood of Boston, the venue doesn’t have the history of fellow Boston jazz club Wally’s Café – but it has just as much charm.
The Natalia Bernal Trio recently performed at The Beehive, while the upcoming Beehive Ball features the New York group People’s Champs. The crowd is filled with young professionals and artistic-minded music lovers, and the atmosphere appears urban with a late-night vibe.
Address: 541 Tremond St. / Boston, MA 02116
Enjoy More Live Performances!
This article was written by Caitlin Klask.
Hero image credit: Jens Thekkeveettil