As you might expect from the home of jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, South Carolina has a thriving jazz and blues scene. From dive bars to dinner theaters, discover the state’s best musical spots, featuring well-known joints and hidden gems that all music fans should know about.
Set sail on the Charleston’s Ashley River with Charleston Harbor Tours’ Blues & BBQ Harbor Cruise on Thursdays and select Fridays until October. Featuring a live blues band and a BBQ buffet, the company’s ship, The Carolina Queen, is one of the most unusual places in the city to hear live blues. A 400-person capacity boat with working paddle-wheel and smokestacks, the boat is evocative of the Mississippi River boats of old as well as the Golden Ages of the blues, and makes for a fantastic musical experience like no other.
Recently moving from Spartanburg to Greenville, Blues Boulevard Jazz has quickly established itself as a premier venue for jazz and blues in its new-build location. Featuring live music every day from Tuesday until Sunday, it is the perfect place for relaxed drinks or a meal. Choose from their extensive tapas or à la carte menus while serenaded by some fantastic local and international groups. There is a reason that this place has become known as the prime location for live music in Greenville, and it is well worth discovering why with a visit.
A sister location to chef Alluette Jones’ wildly popular Alluette’s Café, which has received national press, Alluette’s Jazz Café continues the traditions for great soul food and décor that got her original venture such fantastic press coverage. However, this younger sister café also features a fantastic line-up of live jazz on weekends, with its own house band and regular special guests creating one of the best atmospheres in Charleston. At once jazzy and soulful, it is totally in keeping with Jones’ flourishing reputation as a chef and restaurateur.
Dining at High Cotton is a fine way to get a taste of the Lowcountry | Courtesy of High Cotton
With locations in both Charleston and Greenville, High Cotton is that rare thing, even on this list; a venue with live jazz every single night which can be heard throughout the restaurant and bar, giving the venue a truly special ambiance. Not only that, but it is a restaurant with a great menu of locally-sourced fresh ingredients; Low Country cuisine staples such as fried oysters; and a seriously good (and extensive) wine and cocktail list. A popular venue with often ecstatic reviews, High Cotton really is a must-visit.
What more perfect place for a jazz festival than Cheraw? The city is the hometown of Dizzy Gillespie, the legendary jazz musician who played for an astounding eight different presidents at the White House during his illustrious career. In tribute to the great man, the city comes alive every October with a week of jazz of all kinds taking over its bars, restaurants and public spaces. Pay tribute to the great jazz trumpeter, and maybe even discover a new jazz talent to rival Gillespie, at the South Carolina Jazz Festival.
Various Locations, Cheraw, South Carolina, USA, +843 537 8420
Dizzy Gillespie, Cheraw’s Famous Jazz Son | Courtesy The Jazz Trumpeter
A delightfully kitschy place to hang out, with the drinks served in an array of campy tropical tumblers, Charleston’s Voodoo Tiki Bar has brought some Polynesian color to the often overly serious jazz and blues scene in the city. However, as fun as the bar’s décor is, they take their food seriously. They offer a selection of highly ambitious bar food, with their tacos particularly recommended by almost everyone who has visited the bar. With a great lineup of live music, jazz and blues is merely one exciting element.
Named by Esquire Magazine as the restaurant serving the “most life-changing ribs,” the two Home Team restaurants are run by classically-trained chefs who bring their fine dining experience to barbecue and southern cuisine. This means delicious versions of all the classic Southern staples are available daily. Furthermore, they also offer a truly jam-packed schedule of touring bands, with frequent blues bands bringing music to Home Team BBQ that is as fantastic as the ribs.
A true family-run establishment, with local hero Tim Singleton (the former local high school football team coach) teaming up with his mother in a restaurant named after his grandmother, Ruby Lee’s serves their family recipe soul food and comfort food classics. By day, Ruby Lee’s is a sports bar, with a particularly popular happy hour, but by evening it serves up a line-up of blues and jazz as delightful as the food.
For those looking for a truly classy jazz experience, there is no better place than Charleston’s The Mezz. Launched out of what was seen as the need for a ‘proper’ jazz club in the city, this restaurant was born. From the strictly-enforced business/casual dress code, to its two shows every night of local and national jazz talent, The Mezz is a club where the music is at the front and center rather than a value-added extra. It is a must for anyone looking for a modern yet authentic take on a jazz club.
Despite the name, Charleston’s Trio Club is really a club of two halves. Upstairs, the DJ plays a popular and well-reviewed set of mostly hip hop, but downstairs has a completely different atmosphere, with a selection of live bands playing anything from rock to, of course, a great selection of jazz. It is a high-energy alternative to the sitting-and-eating format of many live jazz venues in the city, and, as such, is always a busy and vibrant place to be. Trio Club is frequently voted the “best dance club” in the city.
Across 28 weeks of the year, Greenville’s popular entertainment plaza NOMA Square features live music every Friday, with two sets at 5:50 p.m. and 7:40 p.m. Compared to many live jazz and blues night, Greenville Heritage Main Street Fridays is completely family friendly, with a “Kid’s Zone” providing entertainment for the kids, leaving parents free to listen to the great lineup of acts over the remaining course of the free events series.