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The 8 Best Jazz Clubs In Chicago

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 11, 2013 4:00PM

Chicago and jazz, like chocolate and peanut butter, are two great tastes that go great together. The Windy City was one of the early incubators of America's first great musical style with Louis Armstrong making his early reputation here. The list of popular jazz musicians who called Chicago home rivals New York and today's local jazz scene is a healthy mix of traditional and forward-thinking styles.

We've put together a list of eight venues to find great jazz any day of the week. Grab a bag of hot peanuts and visit them.

Green Mill: the granddaddy of them all. (Photo credit: Viewminder)

Green Mill
The Mighty Blue Kings once sang "Meet me in Uptown" and the legendary cocktail lounge has been the destination for jazzbos ever since its beginnings as Pop Morse’s Roadhouse in 1907. Tom Chamales bought it three years later and, inspired by Paris' Moulin Rouge, added sunken gardens, a rumba room upstairs, a dance floor downstairs and placed a green windmill on the roof. Jazz has always been an integral part of Green Mill's history from Prohibition to current day. Owner Dave Jemilo and his staff book the best and brightest local jazz players and national acts and gave singer Kurt Elling and pianist-singer Patricia Barber their first early residencies—Barber still plays Green Mill most Monday nights until the wee hours of the morning.

For the nighthawks Green Mill is the ideal bridge between keeping the party going after the 2 a.m. bars close and staying up to see the sunrise over a greasy diner breakfast. The Sabertooth Organ Quartet provides hot licks to complement ice cold martinis and shots of Jeppson's Malort: Green Mill sells more Malort than any bar in Chicago. —Chuck Sudo

Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway Ave., 773-878-5552.

The Elastic Arts Foundation
Elastic rounds out the trio of Umbrella Music series featuring so-called noncommercial jazz at The Hideout and The Hungry Brain. The Logan Square nonprofit was founded in 2002, and also presents hip hop shows, theater pieces, art exhibitions and all kinds of “innovative, non-conventional artists and art forms.”

Saxophonist Dave Rempis curates the improvised music series every Thursday, which is BYOB and held in an intimate second-floor art gallery nestled above Friendship Chinese restaurant. Small donations keep them going (cover is usually around $8), but it’s clear the wide range of musicians who take the stage here are in it for the sheer joy of it — although sometimes the musical explorations find that joy in strange places. Think dueling cellos looped through electronics; sax/vibraphone duos that could summon the dead. —Chris Bentley

The Elastic Arts Foundation is located at 2830 N. Milwaukee Ave., 2nd Floor, 773-772-3616

The Hungry Brain
Squeaking into one of the Brain’s aging (timeless?) armchairs or giving the Pac-Man machine a whirl is a good idea any night of the week, but if jazz is your objective then come on a Sunday evening. Umbrella Music presents the Transmission Series, organized by cornetist Josh Berman and drummer / Pitchfork Music Festival producer Mike Reed. As with Umbrella’s other noncommercial jazz series, expect the unexpected. What better place to feed your head than The Hungry Brain? —Chris Bentley

The Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont Ave., 773-709-1401

Drummer Robert Shy at Katerina's, April 2012 (Photo credit: ~cynthiak~)

If you're looking for dinner and a show this long-standing North Center spot. Jazz is prominent on their musical calendar, with a well-booked lineup of jazz, Brazilian, and world music on their schedule. —Chuck Sudo

Katerina's, 1920 W. Irving Park Rd., 773-348-7592.

In April Mike Reed launched his own venue — a storied collection of three studio spaces once home to the Viaduct Theatre, tucked beneath Western Avenue where it jumps the north branch of the Chicago River. Dance presenters Links Hall also moved into the space, which should indicate the diversity of Constellation’s offerings. The shows span genres, but Reed told the Tribune's Howard Reich part of his venue’s goal was to give local experimental jazz acts a place to stretch their legs. Emptying onto a spare but expertly-staffed bar, the performance spaces are vast compared to the dive bar and art gallery lofts that typically host the noncommercial jazz crowd. —Chris Bentley

Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave.

Jazz Showcase (Photo credit: Joseph Dennis)

Jazz Showcase
At 87, Joe Segal has done as much for jazz music in Chicago as any single musician and his nightclub is equal parts labor of love and business. Jazz Showcase has had several homes since Segal began promoting shows in 1947 and its current location inside Dearborn Station has the feel of being permanent. Segal and his family have hosted most of the titans of jazz and he has his ear on the ground for the newest and brightest talents on the local and national scenes. —Chuck Sudo

Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court, 312-360-0234.

Relax Attack Jazz Series at The Whistler
Specialty cocktail bar The Whistler in Logan Square has music every night of the week, but every Tuesday is Relax Attack Jazz night. Beginning at 9:30 p.m., musicians from the city’s experimental and improv scene take the stage, with this free series focusing on “dynamic explorations of rhythm, melody, texture.” This week is saxophonist Doug Rosenberg’s project “Better Than TV” with Rob Clearfield, Matt Ulery, and Juan Pastor. —Michelle Meywes

The Whistler, 2421 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The Mike Frost Project plays Andy's Jazz Club. (Photo credit: Mike M)

Don't let the dank atmosphere and uninterested crowds fool you, this Loop mainstay is one of the best jazz clubs in the city, with a strong programming every night and the first melodies starting in time for the evening rush every night. The jazz at Andy's ranges from hard bop to fusion, traditional to swing, and even Latin jazz and Afro-pop. Andy's makes a perfect nightcap for an evening dining downtown. —Chuck Sudo

Andy's, 11 E. Hubbard St., 312-642-6805.

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