While it’s not the birthplace of jazz, Chicago was one of its early incubators, thanks to musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. The city is also home to the annual Chicago Jazz Festival – a huge free festival celebrating all things jazz that takes over Millennium Park every Labor Day weekend. But you don’t have to visit in September to get your jazz fix; visit the jazz clubs, both new and old, on this list any day of the year.
Follow the green neon sign into this Uptown club that was once a favorite hangout for the gangster Al Capone and his crew. Thanks to a renovation in the 1980s, the Mill has been restored to its former glory by owner Dave Jemilo, who books the best and brightest local jazz acts. Head here on a Saturday for the fan-favorite Sabertooth Organ Quartet, or visit during a weekday – Tuesdays belong to the Fat Babies and their old-timey feel-good tunes.
Located a stone’s throw away from the Magnificent Mile, Andy’s has been a go-to destination for Chicago jazz since it opened in 1951. With live acts taking the stage at noon, five, and nine, you can listen to traditional bebop and swing day or night. For a full night out, book reservations in the dining room to feast on braised beef short ribs or jambalaya while you listen to the music.
The venerable Jazz Showcase has been living up to its name and packing in crowds since its founding in 1947. A heavy hitter on the Chicago jazz scene, it’s hosted most of the titans of jazz over the years while also keeping an ear to the ground for burgeoning talent.
This not-for-profit Logan Square venue has become known as a spot for non-commercial jazz (as well as hip-hop shows, art exhibitions, and just about every type of unconventional art). Head to the Elastic Arts on Thursdays to listen to experimental tunes in an atmosphere that’s always inviting and never intimidating.
On Tuesday nights, The Whistler, a Logan Square specialty cocktail bar, becomes a haven for lovers of experimental and improv jazz. With the intimate setting, the venue feels more like you’re listening to the performers in your living room (if your living room had epicurean cocktails and dozens of your closest friends).