Chicago cannot claim to be the birthplace of jazz, and the Jazz of the NBA oddly plays in Utah. But this city remains one of the true jazz capitals of the world. Of course, the rise of jazz is inextricably linked with the blues. Chicago is also the home of Down Beat Magazine, the jazz authority since 1934. The city hosts the mammoth annual Chicago Jazz Festival in Millennium Park on Labor Day weekend. The AACM collective pushed the artform into new directions in the 1960s and '70s. But its the small jazz clubs in Chicago that are the lifeblood of this truly American genre. Here, you can sit and enjoy traditional swing and bop. You can sip gin at the Green Mill, just as Al Capone did. You can also witness the cutting edge, listening to wild saxophone skronk at Elastic or grooving to the modern bop of the Umbrella Music Collective in a bar. You can even see a lot of the Umbrella guys working behind the scenes at the Pitchfork Music Festival. And they say jazz is dead. As you can see from our list of top jazz clubs in Chicago, jazz is very much alive.
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This mainstream jazz haven runs regular, low-key residencies with some of Chicago’s most respected scene elders, Dana Hall and Mike Smith among them. It’s a comfortable, intimate space; on top of the music, this River North restaurant boasts a respectable menu that tempts jazzheads to make an evening of it. Bonus: The great Jazz Record Mart is just around the corner.
In the shadows of the elevated section of Western Avenue, this nondescript club has become the hub for the avant-garde. The Sunday weekly Frequency series brings in cutting-edge chamber ensembles, electroacoustic and "new-music," while the rest of the weekend is typically reserved for hot modern jazz from the likes of local drummer Frank Rosaly and visitors from Europe and NYC.
On the edge of Wicker Park’s vibrant nightlife quarter, Davenport’s specializes in old-fashioned cabaret reinterpreted by younger, hipper performers. The venue itself is colorful and modern, a far cry from what you might expect given the lineups. There’s often more than one show on any given night; call ahead to check start and finish times.
This not-for-profit, all-ages spot has quickly become one of the premier venues in the city for free jazz, electronic and other edge-riding music. The crowd ranges from hipsters to older jazz fans to the curious and uninitiated, but there’s no intimidation factor—it’s always friendly.
Perhaps Chicago’s premier roots music showcase, this homey haunt out in Berwyn is best known for an array of folk, zydeco, country, rockabilly and blues acts. It is also one of the few remaining outposts for big band jazz, hosting local swing orchestras on Sundays. Wednesday's SideBar Sessions serve up open jams with classic cocktails.
Al Capone and other gangsters used to hang here in the 1920s, but these days it’s all about the music. Owner Dave Jemilo, who returned the club to its original luster in the 1980s, books smart bebop and free jazz with a discriminating ear. Local favorites Kimberly Gordon and Patricia Barber both maintain residencies throughout the year (Barber’s here every Monday, if she’s not on tour) while Saturdays belong to the ferociously swinging Sabertooth Organ Quartet. Come early, as it’s usually understandably busy.
A ramshackle roadhouse of country-rock in an industrial stretch of the city, Hideout hosts alt-country acts like Kelly Hogan and Devil in a Woodpile, playing over the cracking of PBR cans. On Wednesdays, the always-cool Immediate Sound Series brings post-rock, post-bop locals like Chicago Underground Duo, as well as continental hotshots and electronic improvisors.
Sunday nights at this unassuming West Lakeview dive bar have made it a must-see stop on Chicago’s thriving experimental jazz scene. That's when the Umbrella guys settle in, when you can catch locals like Fred Lonberg-Holm (pictured), Dave Rempis, Joshua Abrams and more intermingling. It also has plenty of comfy seating if you just want to kick back with your friends.
Long heralded as Chicago’s leading jazz venue, the venerable club has been forced to relocate more than once since its inception in 1947. However, since moving to swank new digs in 2008, the Showcase has easily reestablished its reputation for bringing in top-shelf talent like the Bad Plus and Miguel Zenón.
The latest venture from the folks behind Empty Bottle, Thalia Hall and SPACE brings a little more nightlife to Hyde Park. The best cooking at the "hearth" themed restaurant is onstage, where jazz, blues and soul vets do their thing. Initial bookings included Maceo Parker, Roy Ayers and Syl Johnson, which is about as good as it gets out the gate.