For over a century, Chicago has been one of the key nodes of jazz activity in the United States. Early ragtime pianists came to perform at the World's Columbian Exposition and things have been getting better ever since.
Today, the curious traveler (and locals) can take in jazz in settings quite formal like the Symphony Center or they can wander over to the Green Mill at Lawrence and Broadway, Andy's Jazz Club, and the Jazz Showcase in the South Loop. These are but a few stops on any solid jazz tour of the city, and one would be remiss not to mention the Chicago Jazz Festival, which takes place every Labor Day Weekend.
To get you excited about the scene, I've picked a few of my favorite jazz albums recorded in Chicago. It's a highly subjective list, culled from my decades of experiencing and listening to a range of artists, new and old.
Kurt Elling "Live in Chicago" (2000)
Kurt Elling left the University of Chicago Divinity School over two decades ago to pursue a full-time career in jazz and Chicago is a better place for it. He held down a regular Wednesday night spot at the Green Mill for years and this album was recorded in front of an enthusiast crowd. The 12-minute version of "My Foolish Heart" is a standout and along the way he is joined by Chicago legend Von Freeman and other luminaries, including Jon Hendricks and Eddie Johnson.
Sarah Vaughan "At Mister Kelly's" (1957)
From 1957 to 1975, Mister Kelly's was one of Chicago's premier night spots, located in the busy and bustling Rush Street milieu. It's gone now, but fortunately noted chanteuse Sarah Vaughan and her trio were picked up on microphones for this notable Mercury records release. Her version of "Willow Weep for Me" is a gem and the whole album is a delight.
Gene Ammons & Sonny Stitt "Boss Tenors: Straight Ahead from Chicago" (1961)
Gene Ammons was a tenor sax player who grew up in Chicago's South Side and made his way through the ranks of the famous music program at DuSable High School. After time spent with a number of bands, he went out and performed on his own for almost three decades. One of his most well-known and celebrated collaborations was with Sonny Stitt. On this rousing album recorded in Chicago, they perform a variety of standards, including "Autumn Leaves" and "Blues Up and Down."