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Los Angeles/Orange County: Jazz

by William D. Wolff, L.A. Jazz blogger

Sometimes derided as a sprawling metropolis lacking a distinct cultural identity, Los Angeles is nevertheless home to a vibrant and eclectic jazz and blues scene. While New York is unsurpassed in its vast profusion of jazz venues, and New Orleans drips with its roots-oriented second-line jazz, Los Angeles boasts some of the world’s finest musicians and remains an essential destination for internationally acclaimed touring artists.

The rich history of jazz in Los Angeles goes back decades and is noteworthy for the advent of the West Coast sound, developed by artists such as Gerry Mulligan and Dave Brubeck and incorporated into the stylings of, among others, Miles Davis. On any given weekend, one could catch Charles Mingus at Shelley’s Manne Hole in Hollywood, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach and Horace Silver at Dante’s in North Hollywood.

As the hub of the movie and television industries, Los Angeles is home to an exclusive group of virtuoso studio musicians such as Lee Ritenour, Robben Ford and Russell Ferrante, who may be caught at such informal rooms as the Baked Potato in Studio City or the Viper Room in West Hollywood. More upscale venues such as Catalina Jazz Club and Vitello’s Jazz and Supper Club regularly feature touring luminaries such as Pat Martino, Brad Mehldau and Christian McBride. And throughout the summer months, the Hollywood Bowl features a variety of top-flight artists in their Jazz at the Bowl program, including Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

Ray Charles once proclaimed, “Everybody digs the blues,” and the blues are well-represented in L.A. at such clubs as the House of Blues, Harvelle’s, McCabe’s, Babe and Ricky’s and the Mint. Among the artists who have performed at these venues are Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Thackery, and the late John Lee Hooker.

Bottom line, you’d be unlikely to find a city in the world with a greater variety of top-quality jazz and blues than Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Jazz: Jazz Around Los Angeles

Below are our Los Angeles Jazz recommendations, with information on location, admission, transportation/parking, venue history and other points of interest in Los Angeles Art.

Angel City Jazz Festival

The Angel City Jazz Festival has a wide range of different styles and genres, from straight-ahead jazz to hard bop, acoustic piano to avant-garde. This Labor Day festival even features performance art from time to time. Tickets are best purchased online, as there’s a $10 discount for presale purchases. The festival is based at the Barnsdall Art Park overlooking Los Angeles. ...more...

Baked Potato

A stellar lineup of L.A. jazz greats and an intimate NYC dive bar vibe make The Baked Potato one of L.A.’s favorite jazz venues. The artists tend toward the jazz/rock fusion persuasion, but rest assured, whatever it is, it’s top notch. The club hosts live music every night of the week and for bigger artists on Friday and Saturday night, you can call ahead to reserve tickets.

Buyer beware, the cover …more…

Blue Whale

One of Los Angeles’ hippest jazz destinations, Blue Whale Bar in Little Tokyo is the destination for hot jazz and cold drinks. The music tends to stretch the outer limits of what jazz can mean, with Afro-beat, Bebop, Fusion and straight-ahead ensembles all appearing equally at home in this industrial-inspired chic location. Performers tend to be up-and-coming Los Angeles players with the occasional jazz legend sitting in. ...more...

Catalina Jazz Club

Catalina Jazz Club hosts live music Tuesday–Sunday in a truly intimate space. Owner and namesake Catalina has made her club one of the stops for almost all major touring jazz artists. Tickets can cost up to $35 for bigger artists and there is a two-item minimum. With New York-style pricing (and mediocre food), we suggest dinner elsewhere and stopping by Catalina for drinks, dessert and wonderful music. ...more...

Hip Kitty Jazz & Fondue

With a great music lineup and unbeatable atmosphere, Hip Kitty Jazz & Fondue has become a staple in Claremont for those looking for true sophistication. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays feature mostly rock/indie acts, but Friday, Saturday and Sunday are where it’s at for those looking for a jazzy time.

Hip Kitty books a truly diverse set of jazz musicians, from straight ahead trios to small big bands and even a smattering …more…

Jazz Bakery

The Jazz Bakery is one of Los Angeles’ premier musical venues. They recently lost their lease at 3223 Helms Blvd. to a furniture store, and are currently looking for a new permanent home. Their previous venue was not just another supper club or bar with a jazz afterthought, it was a theater-style venue with the music as the one and only focus. ...more...

Jazz Kitchen

Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen (or simply the Jazz Kitchen) is a throwback to the early days of jazz, with a New Orleans theme and atmosphere, in a two-story replica of a traditional French Quarter-style building.  The Kitchen is located in the Downtown Disney area of Disneyland, and contains three distinct dining and entertainment areas; the Creole Café (a quick-service dining facility), Flambeaux’s (where live music performances take place), and the upstairs …more…

Los Angeles Jazz Society

The Los Angeles Jazz Society (LAJS) began in 1985 as an educational organization, devoted to spreading an appreciation for jazz music among the city’s youth.  The activities of LAJS have grown over the years, today including programs such as Jazz in Schools, which brings professional jazz performances to 45 L.A. public elementary schools during the month of February (Black History Month); The Bill Green Mentorship Program, which provides opportunities for promising young …more…

Steamers Jazz Club & Cafe

Steamers Jazz Club & Cafe in Fullerton showcases a wide array of jazz, from intimate, vocal-centered performances to swingin’ Big Bands every Monday night. Live jazz Monday through Saturday keeps the rotation pretty fresh with a healthy mix of Los Angeles favorites and touring acts. Sundays now feature a Jazz Jam session with drink specials.

The food menu is not extensive, so we recommend dinner elsewhere and popping into Steamers for …more…

Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

Step into a new world at Vibrato Grill Jazz … etc., a place that seems far removed from the chaos of L.A. Conceived by music legend Herb Alpert, Vibrato combines exceptional cuisine with fantastic jazz and state-of-the-art sound design.

The decor in the dining room is something straight out of the restaurant’s Bel Air neighbors, with bold sculptures and bright paintings, many by the owner himself. The restaurant hosts live jazz …more…

Vitello’s Italian Restaurant

With an eclectic calendar of great jazz and the San Fernando Valley’s best Italian food, Vitello’s is a staple of the Studio City jazz & fine dining scene. Site of the notorious Robert Blake/Bonny Lee Bakley incident, it continues to be a landmark on the Tujunga Strip.

The lineup includes a number of Los Angeles legends as well as performers who are simply legendary for their regular Vitello’s engagements. Performers have …more…