Philadelphia jazz has a long history, beginning with Ethel Waters, a singer from nearby Chester, Pennsylvania, who was the first star for the Black Swan Record Company. Both Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane also lived and played in Philadelphia. Early Philadelphia jazz clubs included the Standard Theatre and Dunbar Theatre (later renamed the Lincoln). Though jazz was a fundamentally African American style, Philadelphia’s multi-ethnic population was attracted to the style, and the city’s Italian and Jewish neighborhoods produced several well-known jazz musicians, including Stan Getz.
Philadelphia’s mid-20th century jazz heritage includes an important role in the development of bebop, a style most closely associated with New York. In the 1940s, Philadelphia jazz was based out of jazz clubs along Columbia Avenue in North Philadelphia and clubs like the Clef Club and Pep’s in South Philadelphia.
Best Philadelphia jazz clubs today
Alas, Zanzibar Blue closed in 2007, but there are still some great Philadelphia Jazz Clubs to hear live jazz.
Chris’ Jazz CafÃ© is one the top Philadelphia jazz club, with live jazz nightly. Located on Sansom Street near the Avenue of the Arts (Broad Street), this is another one of Philly’s best showcases for local talent. Chris’ Jazz CafÃ© has won many local awards as the best Philadelphia Jazz Club.
Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus is another good Philadelphia jazz club. Tucked in a desolate corner on the edge of Philadelphia’s hipsterish Northern Liberties neighborhood, Ortlieb’s is an easy joint to miss. A dozen blocks from Independence Hall, it is centuries removed from the city’s tidy Colonial core. Once the lunchroom for the now-shuttered Ortlieb’s brewery, with dark wood walls and latticed wooden beam ceiling, it still has the cozy feel of a Bavarian hunting lodge, complete with a mounted buffalo head peering over the drummer’s shoulder. But once you pass through the nondescript door, the club makes up for its lederhosen legacy with a bona fide jazz cool that attracts, Boone says, “some pretty heavy cats.”
The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts is one of the first facilities in the nation constructed specifically as a jazz institution. Today, the Clef Club continues to strive to preserve and promote America’s Classical Music Jazz through performance, educational and cultural services.
LaRose Jazz Club mixes in some blues on a weekly basis, but remains a great place to hear some good local Philadelphia jazz.
Elana’s Soul Showcase Lounge & CafÃ© is small and doesn’t have live jazz every night, but often has some local Philadelphia jazz on Friday nights.