What most people don't know about Weller Court, an unassuming concrete mall in Little Tokyo popular for its ramen cafes and Marukai Market, is that it's home to one of the best jazz clubs in the city. Despite its name, the Blue Whale isn't easy to spot, which means those who are there know why they came. If you're looking for a date conversation soundtrack, this isn't your place. The cover price at this romantic but vivacious club is unpretentious and you won't be asked to spend anything beyond the door cover, so music comes first and talkers aren't tolerated. When it comes to jazz in LA, Blue Whale has its finger on the pulse. CD release parties are common here and popular jam session nights bring in emerging talents at reduced admission. The most peculiar thing about the Blue Whale is the challenge it presents to its listeners: entertainment that will keep you there till dawn and uncomfortable, cube-shaped seats that seem to quote Dan Hick's song, “How can I miss you, if you won't go away?”
For three months every year, the 50-Concert Summer Music Festival at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena transforms the city's Memorial Park into a colorful hub of creativity. A smattering of jazz performances highlights living legends and emerging cats; the 2012 lineup included Tia Fuller, Sony Holland, the Phil Ranelin Jazz Ensemble and the Ernie Watts Quartet, to name a few. Admission is free and seating is first-come first-served on the lawn in front of the old band shell. Pack a homemade picnic and blankets or chairs for these concerts under the stars.
Originally designed as a pub and sports bar in downtown Glendale in the '80s, Jax has evolved into a popular jazz supper club. With seven nights a week of serious jazz and no cover charge or drink minimum, Jax takes pride in its regulars. Every Monday night, seasoned and aspiring vocalists are invited to perform one song, with accompaniment, during open-mic hours, 6:30 to 10:30pm.
Founded in 1989 by master jazz drummer Billy Higgins and poet and community-arts activist Kamau Daáood, this historic venue in Leimert Park supports the community-based nonprofit World Stage. And the World Stage's Weekend Concert Series showcases diverse talents and genres—Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and world jazz; women in jazz; blues; student groups; and word-music-theater to name a few. In addition to concerts, the center hosts jam sessions and drum-and-vocal workshops as a way to help improve the academic performance of local students by supporting their artistic talents. It really is all about the music here. Big names sometimes sit in, but it's the young unknowns who'll knock you out.
If Woody Allen were to make Midnight in Los Angeles, there's no doubt that the historic Milennium Biltmore Hotel, opened in 1927, would feature in dreamy, after-hours flashbacks, complete with the original sketch of the Oscar statuette on a napkin in the crystal ballroom, and appearances by Clark Gable, Walt Disney, Ginger Rogers and other celebrities who shaped this hotel's history. Take your own trip back to the Roaring Twenties in the Gallery Bar on Friday and Saturday nights, where you'll find free live jazz from bassist and composer Ryan Cross and his guests. Study the Manhattan Menu in one of the leather banquettes or take your snifter to the cozy Cognac Room and relish a few of your favorite things. Free jazz Friday and Saturday nights, 8:30 until midnight.
A nod to the original hotel bar that opened just after Prohibition ended, the Tap Room is a high-class joint with an elegant bar and pretty patio in one of the most beautiful hotels in the Pasadena area. On Thursday nights, Chef Jesse Flores breaks out his popular tapas plates and the bar gets busy with spirits tastings, drink specials and live jazz. The Stephen Boyd Band's residency on Friday and Saturday nights keeps this cozy spot swinging all weekend. Free live jazz at 8pm on Thursdays and 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
On Friday nights, the campus of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) floods with jazz. Sitting outside on a warm Southern California evening, watching the sun set over Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass as Chris Burden's Urban Light begins to glow, it's hard to imagine a better place to be. Jazz at LACMA is always free, so you can save your money for a drink at Stark Bar.
If you don't mind a little fusion, jazz here is often served with a chaser. On Friday and Saturday nights, you'll find free live jazz, R&B, and rock until midnight in this glamorous bar inside the Montage hotel, adjacent to the beautiful Beverly Canon gardens and walking distance from Rodeo Drive. You don't have to be a guest at this sleek hotel to enjoy a posh night in the heart of Beverly Hills. Without a cover charge or drink minimum, it's free to pretend. And every Tuesday and Thursday night, all sushi rolls, sake cocktails and Japanese beers are two for the price of one.
The W Hotel in Hollywood doesn't improvise when it comes to swank. On Sunday nights, blond bombshell Brenna Whitaker and Her Little Big Band bring down the house with their vintage jazz and blues in the sleek Living Room Lounge. You won't be charged a cover, but a formal dress code is strictly enforced. For table reservations, contact Jin Yu at 818-209-9021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's hard to imagine eating lobster tail and listening to jazz on Riverside Boulevard in Toluca Lake, but Lucy's 51 makes it possible. This unpretentious lounge hosts live music nightly from 9pm to midnight, with a rotating cast of players, including César Mateus' Latin Jazz, Jimmy McConnell and the United Jazz Sextet, and “Country Jazzmaster” Steve Trovato on guitar. No cover for live music, but a two-drink minimum. Still, with two happy hours—for a total of 10 hours of food and/or drink specials every day—it's rare to pay full price for anything here. Happy hours from 11am-7pm and 11pm-1am.