While jazz can certainly sometimes can play second saxophone to the blues in Chicago, it has a long and storied tradition that stretches back to Louis Armstrong’s arrival in the city in the 1920s. Since that time, the city’s jazz scene has served as a proving ground for a galaxy of luminaries, including Gene Ammons, Eddie Harris, Kurt Elling, Patricia Barber, and countless others who have come from Dubuque to Dubai to test their mettle.
Today, Chicago's jazz scene remains robust and along with old standbys such as the Green Mill, other venues have popped up in Logan Square and other neighborhoods to keep the robust spirit of musical innovation in jazz alive in the Second City.
Here are a few of my favorites places to hear jazz in Chicago and hopefully you’ll discover a few on your own among the city's many live music venues.
4802 N. Broadway Street, Uptown
As their ads say, “All Roads Lead to the Corner of Lawrence and Broadway”, which not surprisingly happens to be their location. Hard to miss given their blaring and wonderful neon sign, which reminds, you that, yes, you’re at the Green Mill. Owner Dave Jemilio turned this historic Jazz Age survivor into a seven night a week jazz club thirty years ago and it’s still going strong.
Today, you can still check out live music seven nights a week, just a Ventra card away from the Red Line L train’s Lawrence stop, so it’s perfect for folks staying in the Loop or Magnificent Mile. Any night will delight, but I’d recommend checking out the fabulous Patricia Barber on Mondays or the late night set by noted saxophone wailer Frank Catalano on Wednesdays. You can check out their full schedule on the Green Mill monthly calendar.
Andy’s Jazz Club & Restaurant
11 E. Hubbard Street, River North
Located in the hustle and bustle of the River North district downtown, Andy’s also provides live jazz seven nights a week and is conveniently located near the Grand Red Line L train stop and close to many downtown hotels. They also offer food and if you’re coming with a large party, you can make a table reservation in advance to ensure maximum enjoyment.
The programming here is quite eclectic and any given week might feature an “Early Risers Jazz Jam” (starting at noon on Sunday), a Ray Charles tribute, and a mix of brass ensembles, such as the Lowdown Brass Band. You might also do well to check out their “Legends of Jazz Lunches”, which include a three course lunch and live music.
806 S. Plymouth Court, South Loop
Chicago's Jazz Showcase is where jazz fans dress to impress and their roster of featured guests is certainly indicative of this fact. Started by Joe Segal in 1947, this distinguished club has bounced around through a variety of locations in its seven decades. Today, you’ll head on down to Dearborn Station in the South Loop to hear a distinguished roster that might include Joey DeFrancesco, Nicholas Payton, and Steve Turre.
Over the years, Joe has also encouraged local jazz ensembles from DePaul University, Columbia College, and Roosevelt University to hold court on stage and those gigs are also worth checking out. Before heading out the Showcase, make sure and check out their schedule. It’s a great night out and a fun place to celebrate a special occasion.
3429 W. Diversey Avenue (2nd Floor), Logan Square
Located on the second floor of a building in Logan Square, Elastic Arts was founded in 2002 to promote a range of “uncommon and stimulating programming”. They do just that, and along with offering literary readings, art installations, and the like, they also have a vibrant program of creative jazz concerts on their calendar.
In any given week, you might find two or three nights of jazz programming and the price of admission is usually under $15, which is quite reasonable. Get there quickly and cheaply via the Blue Line L train stop at Logan Square. The locale makes a great jumping off point for exploring the rest of Logan Square on foot, so why not make it an entire day and evening of your adventure?
J is for Jazz is part of an ongoing series exploring Chicago from A to Z, highlighting a unique Chicago place and theme for each letter of the alphabet. Check out the past posts and stay tuned for more entries!