Chicago is famous for jazz and blues. Growing up, I had a handful of songs that were my go-to but they were all pop hits. I relied on the local radio station top ten countdown and was often glued to the TV so I didn’t miss a Joey McIntyre and NKOTB appearance. You would have never caught me listening to an Oldies or Blues radio station. But that was then. I eventually became intrigued by the Blues scene here in Chicago, especially over the last five years.
Thousands of tourists visit the city to get a taste of the Chicago blues — and explore the history of the sound that had such a significant influence on early rock music. Here's what makes it so special.
A Brief Bluesy History
As documented by Choose Chicago, Chicago Blues developed during the Great Migration, when African American workers migrated in droves from Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana to seek industrial jobs in Chicago. This new wave of residents included many gifted musicians who used electric guitars and amplifiers to build on the energy and rhythm of the Delta blues. This uniquely Chicago style grew rapidly, transcending the street corner to become a staple of the city's nightlife scene. Today, blues music is as much a part of the Chicago landscape as deep dish pizza and the Wrigley Field bleachers.
Jazz Up Your Bluesy Bucket List
Few cities can lay claim to the Jazz and Blues scene like Chicago can. Even now, in 2018, the Blues and Jazz bars are usually packed to the brim, with lines out the door. Often the crowds include new generations who are discovering that even the pop and country music that they like is influenced by these two genres.
If experiencing a live music “supper club” is on your bucket list for the next time you’re in Chicago, look no further than these spots, sure to jazz up your night:
2548 N Halstead St. | (773) 544-5442
This wouldn’t be a true bucket list if I didn’t start with my favorite, Kingston Mines. With two stages, this retro bar has been popular with locals for the past 50 years. Almost anyone I talk about Blues music with has mentioned this spot for a super fun night out. Located in the popular Lincoln Park neighborhood, Kingston Mines is the largest and oldest continuously operated blues clubs in the Chicago area. The live entertainment is worth the trip alone, and there's also a full dinner menu offered daily, featuring delicious southern-style fare.
THE DETAILS: Live music 7 days a week. All ages. Tickets sold online and at the door. Reservations accepted. Admission $6–15. Open until 4:00 AM (5:00 AM Saturdays).
INSIDER TIP: Complimentary admission (plus two guests) to anyone working in the hospitality industry (with proof of employment).
700 S. Wabash St. | (312) 427-1190
Buddy Guy, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and legend in his own right, owns this cultural landmark in Chicago’s West Loop. Now 82 years young, Buddy Guy's music and vibrant stage personality has influenced some of the most popular and talented musicians the world has known, like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. After settling down roots here in Chicago back in 1957, it was only natural for Buddy to take his passion to the next level and open Legends in 1989.
INSIDER TIP: Buddy does play at his own club on occasion, so be sure to do your research on his tour dates before planning your visit.
329 N. Dearborn St. | (312) 923-2000
Unlike the other blues and jazz clubs in the city, the House of Blues is known for larger format shows and has hosted shows of all different kinds. If you like the sound of seeing a show in a venue that combines the soaring grandeur of a European Opera House and the down-home aura of a juke-joint, this is your place! The House of Blues offers daily shows, from live stand-up to solo musical performances.
A Jazzy Yet Brief History
… and yes there is a difference between Blues and Jazz music.
Like its bluesy counterpart, jazz hit the ground running in Chicago in the early to mid 20th century and evolved into the brassy tunes that we’ve come to know and love today. We Midwesterners like to put a twist on everything, from pizza to architecture, and jazz is no exception. The style known as “Chicago Jazz” came from the marriage of two styles of southern music — the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans “Dixieland” styles that artists such as Louis Armstrong and King Oliver pioneered. This sound evolved throughout the decades, incorporating heavy strings, bass and guitar as well as longer solos and quick tempo beats.
Green Mill Cocktail Lounge
With an iconic green-lit marquee and retro feel throughout the bar and cocktail programming, the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge is one of the city's hot spots for live jazz. Located in the city’s Uptown neighborhood, The Green Mill is a fantastic spot for enjoying cocktails with a friend or for a date with that special someone.
THE DETAILS: Live music 7 days a week. Ages 21+ only. No advance tickets or reservations. Admission $4–$15. Open until 4:00 AM (5:00 AM Saturdays).
And then there's...
- Andy's Jazz & Supper Club
- THE DETAILS: Live music 7 nights a week. Ages 21+ after 7:00 PM. No advance tickets. Reservations accepted. Admission $10/15. Full dinner menu.
- Jazz Showcase
- THE DETAILS: Live music 7 nights a week. All ages. Tickets sold online and at the door. VIP seating available. Admission $10–30.
- Blue Chicago
- THE DETAILS: Live music 7 days a week. Ages 21+ only. No advance tickets or reservations. Admission $8/10. Open until 2:00 AM (3:00 AM Saturdays).
- Doors open at 8:00 PM, music starts at 9:30 PM. Open 6 days a week; closed Mondays. Must be 21 to enter
- Smooth Jazz at Loews Chicago O'Hare Hotel
- This hidden gem is located at our sister property, Loews Chicago O'Hare, which hosts live jazz nights in its Montrose Room. The best part is you can package your tickets with an overnight stay at the hotel and make a night of it.
Kelly joined the teams at Loews Chicago and Loews Chicago O’Hare in September 2016. A long-time hospitality professional, Kelly is a Chicago native and is thrilled to share her passion for her hometown with guests via this blog and the hotels' social media channels.