Jazz: the quintessential American art form. Invented in the red light district of New Orleans at the turn of the 19th century, jazz was born of a mix of African and European music traditions. With its infusion of democracy, individuality and freedom of expression, it exemplifies the American experience.
It is difficult to pin down exactly what jazz is, but perhaps a broad explanation will have to suffice – jazz critic Joachim Berendt defines it as a “form of art music which originated in the United States through the confrontation of blacks with European music.”
That doesn’t say much about what it is like to experience the phenomenon of jazz. To understand what jazz is it must be heard and seen live, with the horns blowing in your face and your foot tapping the floor. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, jazz can be heard in thousands of clubs around the world, but what better place to experience it than in the land of its birth? Here are eight of America’s coolest jazz clubs to get you started.
Blue Note Jazz Club, New York
In music lexicon, a “blue note” is an expressive, micro-tonal flattening of pitch used in blues and jazz, but the name has also been used for a number of famous jazz joints, including the current Blue Note in New York City.
During the 1940s and 50s, Chicago’s premier jazz club was called the Blue Note, while another famous Blue Note thrived in Paris during the 1950s and 60s. The extant one in New York, however, was opened in 1981 and has since become the world’s only franchised jazz club network, with three franchises in Japan and plans for future locations in Seoul, Las Vegas and San Francisco.
The club lacks a long and distinguished history and is considered by many to be an overpriced tourist trap, but it can afford the fees of such greats as Herbie Hancock, Cassandra Wilson, McCoy Tyner and other living legends, and is usually packed full. The admission price is heavy (it tends to be the highest of the major New York clubs), but worth it if you want to experience big name musicians in a small club atmosphere.
The club’s website goes allows you to log on and experience Monday and Thursday night performances live: bluenote.net
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The Green Mill, Chicago
The Green Mill is a club whose history permeates the atmosphere. The worn green velvet booths, the bizarre pastoral murals above, Al Capone’s framed portrait staring from behind the bar, the bullet holes in the walls — reminders of the Green Mill’s bygone era are everywhere.
Named after the famous Moulin Rouge in Paris (though substituting ‘Green’ for ‘Red’) the club began operation in 1910. During the Prohibition era it was run by Machine Gun Jack McGurn, Al Capone‘s right hand man. Because mobsters were some of its most frequent customers and police raids were common…
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3 thoughts on “Traveler’s Guide to the Coolest Jazz Clubs in America”
The Balcony Club in Dallas, Texas is small but wonderful. It's a deco icon from the speakeasy era, located above a beautiful old historic landmark, the Lakewood Theater. There are few places like it in America anymore.
Heidi's Jazz Club in Cocoa Beach, East Central Florida, has one of the country's great jazz trios:
Ron Teixeira &Co.Ask Ira Sullivan, Nancy Kelly, Giacomo Gates, Alan Harris , Terry Myers et al.
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