6 Historic Jazz Clubs to Visit Before You Die


Looking for history, culture and a great evening of music? We asked jazz musician Richard Giddens to create a list of his must-visit jazz clubs in the US

New York City Metro Area, The Village Vanguard

It is not too often these days that you are able to walk into the same intimate space that has been graced by the genius 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.

Also, if you are in NYC check out the music at other fantastic venues like Small’s, Douglass Street Music Collective and Barbes.

RelayRides recommends: If you are driving from Manhattan, or New Jersey, one of the best deals in the RelayRides marketplace is Ravi’s Honda Civic in Jersey City

Don’t let not having a set of wheels prevent you from enjoying these amazing jazz venues

Washington D.C., Blues Alley

Blues Alley has been Washington D.C.’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 as ideal as it gets–the music, the sound, the size of the room, the amazing food and, as most musicians will say, “the best vibe.” While jazz spots that have food named after famous jazz musicians are usually kitschy, this place is different–they actually let the jazz musicians come in and create a dish in their honor!

How to get there: why not go to Blues Alley in a green car? Rent a Prius like Nick’s Prius! and you can enjoy your evening with a reduced carbon footprint!

Boston, Wally’s Cafe

If you talk to any jazz musician and ask about Boston, nine times out of ten you will hear a story about Wally’s. It is the longest running jazz club in the US and the first African-American owned nightclub in New England. They feature live music 365 days a year and most nights turn into a jam session. Being just a few minutes walk from two of the premier schools for jazz in the world, it lends itself to being one of the best places to hear the next generation of great musicians.

Other great venues in the Boston area are Lilypad, The Regatta Bar and Scullers.

RelayRides recommends: Travel to this great venue in style and rent a BMW in Boston like BMW–South Station–Boston

Los Angeles, The Blue Whale

One doesn’t usually think jazz when thinking about Los Angeles, but for my money The Blue Whale is where 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. They have great food and drinks and some of the best music from LA and around the world.

If you are in Los Angeles and feel like getting deeper into the scene, the Monday night jazz session at The Falls Lounge in Downtown LA, or enjoy the music and a baked potato at…The Baked Potato!

RelayRides recommends: Head to the Blue Whale in eco-friendly style and rent a Tim’s Nissan Leaf!

San Francisco and Oakland, Yoshi’s

The Bay Area venue always has been a Mecca for great music. As a California native, Yoshi’ has always had a wonderful 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 that I have ever been in. In 2007 they opened another location in the musically rich Filmore District. Two gorgeous venues, great sushi and amazing music–a Bay Area must!

Want to get deeper into the San Francisco jazz scene? Check out the live music and great pizza at Club Deluxe.

RelayRides recommends: If you’re in San Francisco, rent Alamo Square Subaru; if you’re in Oakland, there isn’t a better ride for two than smart fourtwo

Chicago, The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge

If hearing live music and enjoying classic cocktails in a place with rich history is your thing, then there is 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 to for hosting a late night jam session that goes until 5am, 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 are there should add to your already amazing experience.

While in Chicago, I always have to stop at The Underground Wonderbar and the Elastic Arts Foundation for the best in improvised music.

RelayRides recommends: If you’re planning to head to the hang-out of an old Chicago mob boss, treat yourself with some fly wheels–rent Sarah’s BMW 3 Series

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.