When we think about jazz in America, a few cities come to mind - particularly New York, New Orleans, Kansas City, and Chicago. But if you focus on the music's avant-garde style, the count narrows considerably with NYC and Chicago leading the pack. Never mind the USA, there aren't too many places around the world where you can hear adventurous sounds performed live every night of the week.


The longest-running regular event in Chicago takes place at 7:30PM each Monday at Myopic Bookstore. A chain of musicians, Brian Labycz, and Aaron Zarzutzki, have been booking concerts at this Wicker Park establishment since the mid-90s. If you are up a bit later and feel a mite peckish, you have choices. You could stay in the neighborhood and visit Jerry's Sandwiches, where bassist Dan Thatcher has been inviting a wide variety of local jazz artists to play his Ears & Eyes series on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Or you could head south to Pilsen to visit the Skylark Lounge, where percussionist Frank Rosaly invites both local and out-of-town performers to the Ratchet Series. While you listen to the music, you can nosh on their legendarily toothsome tater tots.


In the summertime, the Museum Of Contemporary Art has dinnertime concerts on the terrace. During the colder months, check the museum's schedule for less regular by highly worthy performances in the galleries and on the museum's main stage. Year round, head to Logan Square after dark to hear jazz at The Whistler, where visual artist Jordan Martins books the Relax Attack Jazz Series. The Whistler is renowned for its cutting edge mixology, and while the booking is similarly adventurous, this is one space that tolerates the clink of glasses and chatter of sociable patrons throughout the sets. It's also worth checking into Bar DeVille, where booker Scott McNiece has set up one-off shows and month-long runs by groups like Herculaneum and Klang.


Ever Wednesday you can count on top flight, uncompromising local or international jazz and improv at The Hideout. Mitch Cocanig has been booking the Immediate Sound Series since its inception. Come early for the Hideout's socially conscious, food-oriented events like Vegetarian Bingo in the summer and Soup And Bread in the winter.


Early on Thursdays, visit Comfort Station, a former trolley station in Logan Square that has been repurposed as a neighborhood art space. The music, which is not limited to jazz but is generally quite good, is free, and if you bring the kids and they get bored, there's space for them to play outside. Then head up Milwaukee Avenue to Elastic. This combination studio/gallery/concert venue is another mainstay of the Umbrella organization. Events here are BYO, and saxophonist Dave Rempis Improvised Music Series often arranges different settings for the same musicians who played the night before at The Hideout.

Friday and Saturday

On the weekend, your choices multiply, but call ahead; some of these establishments host a diverse array of entertainments, others aren't open every night. Heaven and Tritriangle occupy adjacent floors of the same building on Milwaukee Avenue. The former mostly favors acoustic jazz and avant-garde classical concerts, while the latter favors free noise and electro-acoustic improv; both are BYO. In ever season save the summer, Lampo hosts challenging electronic music at several locations around the city. The Green Mill is known as a mainstream jazz venue, but they often books bracing stuff in plum weekend slots, bless their souls. Constellation is the city's newest venue. Operated by drummer Michael Reed, who has also produced the Pitchfork Festival and the Umbrella Festival, it has two different stages for jazz, creative rock, American Primitive guitar, and dance performances, as well as a bar. On Sundays, scribe Peter Margasak's Frequency Series draws connections between all of these influences and classical music.


Located in Roscoe Village, The Hungry Brain is the third corner of the Umbrella triumvirate. Michael Reed and Joshua Berman book the concerts, which often tie in with the gigs that happen earlier in the week at the Hideout and Elastic.

Can't Miss Shows in the Chicago Avant Garde for September

September 1, Hungry Brain (2319 W Belmont Ave) 

Rempis Percussion Quartet - high energy total improvisation fueled by two of the city's best drummers

September 6, Constellation (3111 N Western Ave) 

Joshua Abrams' Natural Information Society, - jazz meets North African trance grooves.

September 17, The Whistler (2421 N Milwaukee Ave)

NML (Fred Lonberg-Holm, Wayne Montana, and John Niekrasz) - it's anyone's guess      what will happen whenChicago's newest improvising drummer, a veteran cello and  electronics player, and a member of The Eternals come together in this new ensemble.

September 24, Museum of Contemporary Art (220 E Chicago Ave)

Body/Head - guitarists Kim Gordon (Free Kitten Sonic Youth) and Bill Nace (Paul Flaherty,   Joe McPhee) will bring eerie electric noise and visuals to match.

By Bill Meyer, Jazz/Improvised Contributor,

Photo Courtesy of Constellation Chicago 

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