By guest blogger Richard Giddens.
New York City metro area, The Village Vanguard
It’s not too often these days that you’re able to walk into the same intimate space that has been graced by the likes of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, and Bill Evan — just to name a few. Aesthetically unchanged since its beginnings as a Mecca of Jazz, you can go there today and hear the music from modern day giants. This is one of the absolute best places to experience live music.
Washington DC, Blues Alley
Blues Alley has been Washington DC’s premier jazz club for almost 50 years. If the musician was alive and well after 1965, then he or she has probably played here. Everything about this spot is ideal — the music, the sound, the room size, the food and, as most musicians will attest, “the vibe.” While clubs that have food named after famous jazz musicians are usually kitschy, this place is different — they actually let the musician create a their own namesake dish.
Boston, Wally’s Cafe
If you ask any jazz musician about Boston, nine times out of 10 you’ll hear something about Wally’s. It’s the longest running jazz club in the US and the first African-American owned nightclub in New England. Wally’s features live music 365 days a year and most nights turn into a jam session. Being just a few minutes from two of the world’s premiere jazz schools, it lends itself to being one of the best places to hear the next generation of great musicians.
Los Angeles, The Blue Whale
One doesn’t usually think jazz when thinking about LA, but for my money, The Blue Whale is the place to go for the latest in modern jazz and improvised music. Joon Lee has set up something beautiful in a totally unassuming outdoor mall in Little Tokyo.
San Francisco & Oakland, Yoshi’s
This Bay Area venue has always been a Mecca for great music. As a California native, Yoshi’s has always had a special place in my heart; as a teenager, we would pile into a car and go see people like McCoy Tyner, Joshua Redman, Eddie Palmieri, and Kenny Garrett. This Oakland staple has probably one of the best sounding rooms in the business. In 2007, they opened another location in the musically rich Fillmore District. Two gorgeous venues, great sushi, and amazing music — a Bay Area must!
Chicago, The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge
If hearing live music and sipping classic cocktails in a richly historical place is your thing, then there’s no better place on Earth than in a former Chicago mob boss’ prohibition speakeasy, The Green Mill. One of Chicago’s flagship establishments for jazz, the “Mill” offers some of the best acts from Chicago and abroad. Saturday nights are known for hosting a late night jam session that goes until 5 am, and the popular Sunday night poetry jam is a Chicago staple.
Unfortunately, the old Chicago mob tunnel system that runs directly under the club is off limits. Just knowing that they’re there should add to your already amazing experience.
Richard Giddens is a musician based in Brooklyn, NY. He has played with such artists as Charlie Haden, Larry Goldings, Ideal Bread, Joe La Barbara, Mary Halvorson, The Chapin Sisters, Peter Bernstein, Robert Glasper, Taylor Ho Bynum, Randy Brecker and Arturo Sandoval, among many others.