Five Best Jazz Clubs Around the Country.  By Lisa Ellex

Five Best Jazz Clubs Around the Country. By Lisa Ellex

. 4 min read

If you find yourself on the road looking for some of the best jazz, our resident writer and jazz vocalist Lisa Ellex shares some of her intimate favorites spots from around the U.S.  Welcome for traveling solo (or accompanied).

Throughout my lifelong love affair with music, I’ve visited various venues, unaccompanied. By virtue of attending, there exists a common bond between myself and the other patrons: We are all there to share in the communion of live music. So, with a song in my heart, I am sharing with you some of my favorite music spots, from east to west, particularly welcoming when traveling solo.

Smalls, NYC.

The magic of Smalls begins when you make your descent, speakeasy-style, to this very intimate room. If music is your religion, Smalls is your church. There are even benches arranged “revival style” in the first several rows from the stage, and it’s impossible to sit any closer without being in the band! Bands play two sets per night at 7:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., with another band playing at 10:30 p.m. and midnight. But stick around. This is the joint where musicians come to jam when they finish their gigs at other clubs. I guarantee: You will lose yourself. I first attended Smalls soon after they opened in 1996, and when I emerged, the birds were chirping in the early morning light.

Deer Head Inn.  Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania.

Cross the New Jersey border on Route 80 West and you’re on the holy ground of “the oldest continuous jazz club in the country.” The building itself has been an inn since the 1800s and is still in operation. Singles get a spot at the bar instead of a table, but this is the best seat in the house! The staff and regulars are always welcoming, the varied menu is good, and the talent is top shelf. Jazz greats such as Bill Charlap, Stephanie Nacassian, Dave Leibman, and Houston Person are here often. When the weather is nice, you can dine, drink, and listen from the tremendous front porch. Bonus: the Appalachian Trail literally steps away from the Inn. Spend your weekend hiking on the trail or kayaking on Delaware River and at the end of the day listening to some great music before retiring to your room just up the stairs. Open Thursday through Sunday, Thursday being jam night with an open mic at 9 pm.

Bluebird Cafe. Nashville, Tennessee.

Though not a jazz club, Bluebird Cafe showcases the “other” American music. If country is your thing, then The Bluebird Cafe is your spot. Truly a singer/songwriter's showcase, the performers share the stage in a “round-robin” where they take turns presenting one original song (and the story behind the song) at a time in the rotation. It’s a well-put-together mix of newcomers learning the ropes, and veterans who have had their songs made into hits by established recording artists. Every so often the audience is surprised by a country star who drops in to play a tune right where it all began for them.

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge.  Chicago, Illinois.

Opened in 1907, the art deco-style Green Mill is said to be Chicago’s oldest operating club. Its green neon “Cocktail Lounge” sign welcomes all who enter, seven nights a week, for live music from well-known artists, late-night jams, straight-ahead jazz, blues, gypsy jazz, soul, and big band orchestras and swing bands (yes, there’s dancing on Tuesdays and Thursdays). If you’re there on a Friday, be sure to catch the “Cocktail Hour Show” when there’s no cover charge from 5-8 pm. Bands play from 8 pm to midnight. Best time to make friends: Sundays from 7-10 pm when you can be a part of the Slam Poetry contest and vote for your favorites. The icing on the cake: the jukebox is filled with pre-1960 jazz tunes.

Piedmont Piano Company. Oakland, California.

Yes, it’s a piano company, family-owned and operated for over 40 years. By day, Piedmont sells fine new and used pianos, provides music lessons, practice studio rentals, piano rentals, and piano moving and storage. By evening, they host a live concert series right in their showroom, with blues, jazz, swing, classical, soul, funk, roots, and more. Shows start early -- usually between 5 and 7 pm -- so you can always get dinner after the show with some of the new friends you just made. (Hey, it’s California.)

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