According to Njaimeh, a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA , the 5 best cities for jazz lovers includes Chicago, New York, Kansas City, Orleans and Pittsburgh.
Here’s what the Urbanful article has to say about the five best cities to celebrate jazz
April is Jazz Appreciation Month, which means it’s a good time to give some love to some of the American cities that made great contributions to the music in the past. But thankfully, they all have concerts, museums and special tributes that can help us celebrate America’s original musical genre all year long. What are you waiting for?
From the dancing and African drumming of Congo Square to the musical experimentation in debaucherous Storyville venues, jazz and the sounds that it emerged from are nearly as old as the city itself. Louie Armstrong himself used to march in the “second line” of the city’s infamous parades. Countless bars, restaurants and holes in the wall where jazz have come and gone, but the scene still thrives because of how it can reinvent itself.
Today, frontrunners include the nightly concerts at the revered Preservation Hall, which is dedicated to preserving traditional New Orleans Jazz. There are no frills bars likeVaughan’s, musician run spots like Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse and atmospheric period-themed spaces like Three Muses. The only thing left to do: Head to New Orleans to scope it out for yourself.
When African Americans left the south in the early 20th century as a part of the first Great Migration, they brought music along with them, implanting jazz and the talented musicians who played it into the music scene of Chicago and other northern cities. The jazz tradition here is deep, with musicians as diverse as Louie Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman and Sun Ra all claiming some connection to the city.
Today, there’s no shortage of venues that support good live jazz in Chicago. At the top of many must-sees is The Green Mill. First opened in 1907, it was a favorite spot for Al Capone and other mobsters of his era. After Prohibition, it became a draw for talented jazz acts before its decline in the 1940s, but it was restored to its former glory in 1986 and has been up and running since. Other current staples of the city’s jazz scene are the non-profit Elastic Arts Foundation, the old school club Andy’s and the perennial favorite, Jazz Showcase.
In the mid-20th century, the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh was a focal point of black America, and consequently became home to one of the country’s buzziest jazz scenes. The most popular big bands, ensembles and soloists of the day stopped through to play at venues that included the Crawford Grille, Stanley’s, the Ellis Hotel, and the Ritz. Jazz legends such as Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, Art Blakey, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams and Lena Horne were either from Pittsburgh or honed their craft in the city, among many more who were influencers across several jazz genres.
Those establishments are long gone today. But Pittsburgh is still home to a vibrant live jazz scene. Pittsburgh JazzLive International is the annual jazz festival held each summer, and venues like James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy, Andy’s and Little E’sare just a few of the venues that play host to a variety of local and national live acts each week.
In the 1920s and ’30s, Kansas City had a reputation for being “wide open” for alcohol, gambling and any other nightlife staples you can think of. At its peak in the 1930s, there were more than 100 night clubs, dance halls and vaudeville houses; one street alone had close to 50 jazz clubs. Count Basie and Charlie Parker called the city home, and countless stellar musicians cut their teeth in late night jam sessions that were boosted by the freewheeling nature of the town. Undoubtedly, the scene was aided by thepolitical bosses that kept the police out of the mix.
Thanks to a changing of the political guard, the nightlife and the excellent jazz that was a part of it went into decline in the 1940s. Since then, the city itself has seen a lot of changes, but things have been looking up lately. One strong testament to the city’s jazz legacy is the American Jazz Museum, which is currently located in the heart of the city’s jazz and nightlife district of the past.
If New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, then New York has long served as the place the genre goes to prove itself. Making it in the intimate venues here opens the door to bigger stages, but there’s a long history to navigate to get there. Harlem was home to glamorous, sprawling clubs like the Savoy and the Cotton Club (complete with it’s ironic racial policies), historic jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse and a bevy of smaller venues. In the 1930s and ’40s, the West Side featured two blocks brimming with legendary clubs like Jimmy Ryan’s and The Spotlite, while Greenwich Village remained a heavyweight for decades with the likes of Café Society, the Five Spot and the Half Note. Keeping that tradition alive is the Village Vanguard; founded in 1935, it’s been serving up high caliber jazz exclusively since 1957.
Though just a quick train ride from New York City, Newark had a thriving jazz scene in it’s own right for the early decades of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1900s, musicians would stop through the city on their way to New York, but it really took off as its own jazz mecca between the 1930s and ’60s as a popular stop on the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” the name given to the network of venues that black entertainers could perform in during the segregation of the Jim Crow era. It became known particularly as a breeding ground for standout piano players, as they carved out what came to be known as “soul jazz.” Sarah Vaughan is perhaps their most famous native daughter, while Count Basie and Dizzie Gillespie have strong ties to the city as well.
Notable venues such as the Grand Hotel, Sparky’s, the Key Club and the Piccadilly Club have been long shuttered, but new establishments like Duke’s Southern Table are aiming to bring the live jazz scene back to the city. At the least, the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University Newark houses the larges library of jazz and jazz related items in the world, a nice nod to the city’s contribution to the art form.