Established in New Orleans in the early twentieth century, jazz music is one of America’s great musical legacies. Soulful, rough, smooth, and edgy, with complex harmonies, jazz music is considered an art form. But that’s not to say that jazz is simple. It’s a type of music that is heavy on improvisation and breaks all the rules of classical music composition. In order to truly appreciate and understand the mystery of jazz, one should hear it live.
Our area was once a hotbed of jazz joints. No surprise, given that jazz greats like Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, Eubie Blake and Elmer Snowden all hail from the DC/Baltimore region. Today, jazz venues are alive and well, from local cafes hosting up-and-coming artists, to larger stages like Rams Head that headlines national acts. Here’s where to go in our area to hear the best in live jazz music.
49 West Street, Annapolis
Annapolitans know that there is one place that consistently delivers top-notch live music from established artists: 49 West. Known as ‘Annapolis’ Living Room,’ 49 West is the kind of intimate, locals-only joint that is perfect for experiencing jazz up close and personal. With a varied wine list and food menu that includes both entrees and small bites, 49 West is a great venue for a date night or casual outing with friends. The restaurant has live musicians 3-4 nights a week and regularly hosts the Unified Jazz Ensemble, an acoustic jazz band, in its back room.
1073 Wisconsin Ave, NW
Founded in 1965, Blues Alley in DC is the nation’s oldest continuing jazz supper club. Located in Georgetown, this renowned establishment has hosted jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Byrd, and Eva Cassidy, over the years. The venue’s intimate setting allows for up-close listening and the ambiance is reminiscent of jazz clubs of the 1920’s and 30’s. With a broad menu of Creole favorites, steak and seafood, a night at Blues Alley feels like a step back in time. Open nightly for guests of all ages, Blues Alley is truly the gold standard of American jazz clubs.
Rams Head on Stage
33 West Street, Annapolis
Rams Head on Stage is known for bringing big city acts to Annapolis. But it’s not just a rock and roll, folk music, or comedy venue. Rams Head hosts renowned jazz artists like Jeff Bradshaw, a Soul/Jazz innovator and trombonist, who performs at Rams Head in early September. In November, Rams Head plays host to Jeffrey Osborne, an award-winning jazz artist who has produced ten gold and platinum albums of original songs and updated jazz standards. In late December, head to Rams Head for “Jokes and Jazz with Tommy Davidson and Marcus Mitchell.”
12617 Laurel Bowie Road
Every Wednesday at 5 Sisters Restaurant in Laurel, you can hear authentic live jazz and R&B at the restaurant’s ‘Wine Down Wednesdays’. The large venue has a spacious dance area and features live music every night of the week with a regularly rotating calendar of musicians. With a diverse menu of West African and Caribbean favorites like oxtail stew, jollof rice and spicy fried goat, 5 sisters also hosts a happy hour with daily drink specials.
801 Chase Street
Maryland Hall, Annapolis’ premiere arts venue, regularly hosts concerts by well-known jazz musicians. The ticketed events feature award-winning artists from all over the world. In early September, Grammy-winning trumpeter Chris Botti comes to Maryland Hall to perform from his four #1 hit jazz albums. Home to the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, Maryland Hall regularly hosts jazz musicians in collaboration with the orchestra and has special theme evenings focused on a music genre. From September 15-17, Maryland Hall will host several concerts by musicians of all genres for the Annapolis Songwriters Festival.
20 South Caton Ave, Baltimore
Not far from Annapolis in Southwest Baltimore, lies one of the most authentic jazz lounges on the East Coast. With a casual atmosphere and a menu packed with soul food favorites like fried chicken and collard greens, Caton Castle is one of the longest running jazz clubs in the Baltimore area. Nestled in an area of strip malls just off Route 40, Caton Castle has been booking well known jazz acts for over 23 years. Upcoming events include a tribute to John Coltrane and a performance by award-winning duo, Paul Carr and Marshall Keys.
Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club
7719 Wisconsin Ave, Bethesda
On Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda, the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club has been hosting local and nationally renowned jazz acts for almost a decade. The large entertainment space features a lounge, dance floor, and theatre seating, as well as table seating. The club is a throwback to the golden age of jazz supper clubs and though most of the headliners are jazz and blues-focused acts, the club also features contemporary performers like Macy Gray and Arrested Development. Upcoming performances include Eric Benet, The Blackbyrds and Regina Belle. Food is focused on light bites, Southern comfort food, and seafood like shrimp and grits and herb crusted salmon.
By Katie Riley