Where to Hear Great Blues and Jazz in Chicago



Music lovers crowd Chicago’s blues and jazz clubs where legendary figures as Von Freeman, Franz Jackson and Eddy Clearwater have played.

The city’s annual Chicago Blues Fest and Chicago Jazz Fest are popular free events that take place during the summer. Past performers of the Blues Fest include Ray Charles, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor while the Jazz Fest shows off Chicago's vast jazz talent alongside national and international artists to encourage and educate a jazz audience of all ages.

Luckily one doesn’t need to wait for the free festivals to enjoy live music in Chicago. Many clubs offer nightly performances 365 days a year.

Green Mill is perfect for those who appreciate live jazz in a speakeasy atmosphere while Rosa's Lounge lets you enjoy live blues without the unnecessary pretentiousness of a club-like atmosphere.

Kingston Mines offers free or discounted cover to students, members of the military and seniors. Tourists staying at downtown hotels can walk to Blue Chicago, Winter's Jazz Club  or Andy's Jazz Club. Blues afficionados will want to explore Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation, the historic site of Chess Records while they're in town. 

Chicago’s jazz and blues clubs are cozy, dimly lit and have genuine character. Don’t be surprised if you’re seated alongside one of Chicago’s greats who is enjoying the music on his or her day off or just after finishing their own set.



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Open at 8pm and the electric blues kick off at 9:30pm nearly every night of the week at B.L.U.E.S. It's a tiny Lincoln Park spot so it can get crowded, but the intimate atmosphere adds to its appeal. The walls are covered in history of blues and Chicago music icons and small tables bring you close to other blues fans (one of whom might be a blues artist having a drink and chilling). The club features emerging and well-known local artists such as Pistol Pete, Eddie Shaw and Vance "Guitar" Kelly. Shows are highly interactive and there's always plenty of righteous merch for sale.


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Lincoln Park


 

Kingston Mines is the largest and oldest continuously operating blues club in Chicago, so it's a must for fans of the genre. Magic Slim, Koko Taylor, Sugar Blue, Billy Branch, Junior Wells and scads of blues' legends have packed the house with nonstop blues seven nights a week. Local blues and jazz artists often stop by here after their sets at other clubs. Home to the blues since 1968, the club includes a late night kitchen that serves ribs, chicken, shrimp and catfish right up to the end of the night. A Blues Jam happens Sunday nights and admission is free. Students (21+)/faculty get in free Sunday -Thursday night and enjoy discounted admission Friday/Saturday; those 65+ get a discount all week and US military (current and separated)/police/firefighters get in free all week long. The cover charge covers two bands on two stages and music until 3:30am (Sunday-Friday) and 4:30am (Saturday).


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From Dizzy Gillespie to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, jazz legends have been playing owner Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase since 1947. The club has moved multiple times over the decades but has settled in comfortably in a acoustically refined South Loop locale. Audiences are reverent (don't even think about talking during a set, or you'll get shushed and stink eyed). Chicago acts play regularly and even big-name tours often pick up local musicians to round out their bands, guaranteeing a devoted local following. Determined to spread the faith to the next generation of jazz fans, the Showcase invites families to the Sunday 4 p.m. matinee provided the fans-in-the-making observe the unwritten "no-talking" rule. The club accepts cash at the door but you can use a credit card for bar service.


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If this club worked for Bowie and Clapton, it'll do you just fine. Buddy Guy, a hero to Clapton, plays at his club in January but don't let that stop you from enjoying local and national musicians performing seven nights a week. Don't be shy because of the club's exterior - it's polished inside and more than a few bros and tourists fill the seats along with lifelong lovers of the blues. Peruse the mellow blues joint's calendar online and you'll see it jam packed with great artists. Enjoy great food and great music with free, all-ages acoustic shows, too. Fascinating memorabilia dots the walls of the cavernous room while pool tables and a Southern kitchen serving po' boys and jambalaya keep patrons satisfied. Buddy Guy's Legends is open for lunch five days a week and dinner every night. Despite its touristy reputation, the club is a great place to see live blues in comfort. Parking can be found in pay lots just south or around the corner. Legends does not accept reservations so show up early.


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Whereas most other jazz clubs are strictly a listen and drink experience, Andy's Jazz Club, originally open in 1951 to entertain the pressman from the burgeoning newspaper industry, also offers an American dinner menu. The options range from steak and salmon to nice bites like chips and guac or truffle fries to nibble with a cocktail. Local performers cover a range of styles from traditional and swing to bop, fusion, Latin and even beatbox sax seven nights a week. For those who wish to dine at the full service restaurant, be sure to make reservations in advance unless you don't mind being seated at the bar. Doors open every day at 4:30pm and the first band begins at 5pm. There is a cover (cash preferred) even if you're dining at the restaurant. The club is conveniently located within walking distance of the Magnificent Mile.


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Blue Chicago on Clark, open since 1985, has built an identity of presenting female blues vocalists (they often do not have their own band) backed up by talented Chicago blues musicians. It's probably the only club in town with a mission to give female singers a platform to showcase their prodigious talents. The room is small, long, dimly lit and tavernesque with a stage at one end. If you need to sit, get there early in the evening to score a stool otherwise you may have to stand. A full bar is on premises, allowing for a drink or two with the show. There is a cover between costing $10-$12 a night (depending on the night and performers) but the club does not disappoint. Drinks are decent and reasonably priced. You can't miss the original oil paintings by artist John Carroll Doyle that includes the now iconic Mojo Mama.


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Rosa's Lounge, circa 1984, is not a 21st century re-creation homage to family owned blues bars - it's the real deal. When you want to hear great live blues without pretension but plenty of sincerity - this is your destination. Order a drink and enjoy the diverse crowd that fills Rosa's to hear the likes of harmonica genius Sugar Blue, Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials and Billy Branch & the SOB. There is a cover charge and full service bar to meet guests' needs (no drink minimum). Tony, the friendly owner who named the place after his mother who helped him open the club, still takes care of his guests every night.


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Green Mill Cocktail Lounge
Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of Choose Chicago


 

Traditional, modern, Bebop, improvisational. It's all at the sophisticated Green Mill which will transport you via dazzling grooves and improvised tunes of the early '30s and '40s. The club was insired by Clark Monroe's Uptown House in Harlem, circa the 1940's. Once a hangout of Al Capone and Charlie Chaplin, the Green Mill oozes character. It was a speakeasy during Prohibition and retains an air of the Roaring '20s. There's live music every night of the week so check the online calendar for performers, times, cover charge and other details pertaining to the night you want to visit. Swing music regularly on tap and there are jazz vocalists, national and international artists and an occasional poetry slam. Cocktails aren't very spendy but if you want to enjoy them from a cloth covered table, get there before the bands begin otherwise you'll be out of luck because this place gets packed.


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Roscoe Village

 

Have a sturdy cup of coffee with dinner because you'll want to be all ears all night long at Constellation Chicago. Regulars like the two spacious performance areas (seating 50-75 and 100-150), with comfortable seating and great sight lines as well as fabulous acoustics and an eclectic artist roster. A full bar with reasonably priced adult beverages are an added bonus and they may be brought into performances. The 7,000-square-foot venue had a previous life as the Viaduct Theater. Hit up Constellation to revel in free jazz, neo-soul, avant-garde jazz, piano trios from the U.K., Italian jazz duos, New York City sextets and Chicago-based composers and musicians.


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Overlooking the Ogden Slip, Winter's Jazz Club is walking distance from countless hotels and restaurants as well as shopping hub, Michigan Ave. The club seats 100 in the performance space and 25 in the bar/lounge and you can expect straight-ahead jazz most days, but you can be surprised with a bout of live Gypsy-jazz, swing, a Bourbon Street quartet and some other riffs on the genre. This is a "listening room" so save the chatter for after the show. Sets run 75 minutes at 7:30 and 9:30 pm six nights a week and there's a one-drink minimum of $10/person/set. Cover charge varies but sit in the bar and enjoy half-off of the standard listening room cover charge.


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Born in Bucktown when bulletproof was a home safety choice and not a coffee order, Jacky Runice has been knocking around Chicago as a professional print, online and broadcast journalist and...  More About Jacky

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