Groups flock to clubs to enjoy Chicago’s legendary blues and jazz
One of America’s great cities, Chicago is world-famous for many things, including its architecture, museums, restaurants and sports. But for meeting groups looking for some fun, the biggest draw undoubtedly is the lively and highly varied music and nightlife scene.
“Music emanates from every corner of Chicago, from street corners and subway stations to tiny clubs, beautiful concert halls, massive stadium stages and outdoor amphitheaters,” says Meghan Risch, vice president of corporate communications for Choose Chicago. “With more than 225 incredible venues, Chicago is a prime tour stop and home to incredible talents.
“Whether you are looking to catch emerging artists, are following a favorite band or want to try some gospel music with your brunch, the diverse scene is a music lover’s paradise.”
The city features tremendous talent in many genres, including hip-hop, indie rock, mainstream pop, punk and classical. But perhaps above all, Chicago is steeped in blues and jazz, which are not to be missed.
Chicago’s blues and jazz scenes developed during the first Great Migration (1910–1930) as droves of African-American workers migrated from Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana to find industrial jobs in Chicago.
Some of the city’s outstanding blues and jazz clubs are nearly as famous as the legends who played there. The city offers several fascinating old spots, as well as some lesser-known unique venues—and most of them are very affordable and can be bought out.
Some of Chicago’s original leading blues artists began using electric guitars and amplifiers in the late 1930s to elevate the energy and rhythm of Delta Blues. What emerged is a unique style that became wildly popular, from street corners to posh nightclubs, including some legendary spots.
Featuring Cajun soul food and plenty of rare blues memorabilia, Buddy Guy’s Legends on Chicago’s South Side is owned by the legendary blues guitarist and features international, national and local musicians. Private events for up to 600 can be arranged, with live musicians. When in town, Guy often can be spotted at the bar. He also plays 16 shows at the venue every January.
Located in a working-class West Side neighborhood, Rosa’s Lounge is a family-run spot owned by noted local drummer Tony Mangiullo and his mother, after whom the place is named. Blues performers at Rosa’s play a wide variety of styles. They’ve included traditional legends such as Pinetop Perkins, David Honeyboy Edwards and Homesick James; Chicago modernists including Billy Branch, Melvin Taylor and Sugar Blue; and second-generation blues artists such as Eddie Taylor Jr. and Lurrie Bell.
Rosa’s has been recognized as Chicago’s Best Blues Club by The New York Times and “a blues mecca for true believers” by Rolling Stone. The club is available for private parties, which can include catering and top blues entertainment. It features local musicians (including a weekly jam hosted by Tony Mangiullo) and underground out-of-town acts with growing reputations.
The Smoke Daddy is well-known for its barbecue, but it’s also earned a name for itself because of its small area that offers live music seven nights a week in the eclectic Wicker Park neighborhood. Many musicians that have played with famous bands have taken the stage, including Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (Muddy Waters), Jimmy Lee Robinson (Little Walter and Elmore James), Billy Boy Arnold (Bo Diddley), Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds) and Jerry Portnoy (Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton). The Smoke Daddy can accommodate groups of up to 40 guests seated or 50 for a cocktail reception. They’re able to enjoy the party space and live music. No rental fees are charged for rooms.
Located in downtown River North, House of Blues is part of a chain that offers live blues and rock, as well as po’ boys, jambalaya and other Southern dishes.
“This entertainment emporium has the glorious colors and rich adornments of the Mississippi River Delta as a backdrop to the national touring acts—not only blues—and Gospel brunch served up on the various levels,” Risch says.
Beneath every stage in the House of Blues chain rests a metal box filled with Delta Mississippi mud. The box is welded to a structure on the stage to ensure that all artists performing at the clubs have the roots and spirit of the South planted beneath their feet.
Blue Chicago, in the heart of the River North entertainment district, has been presenting authentic Chicago Blues in a warm and friendly atmosphere since 1985. Live music is featured every night on the corner stage along the long, narrow bar. Over the years, the club has showcased such blues legends as Koko Taylor, Karen Carroll, Bonnie Lee, Willie Kent, Johnny B Moore, Magic Slim, Eddie Clearwater, Eddie Shaw, Buddy Scott and Eddie Lusk.
Located on Chicago’s North Side, Kingston Mines claims to be the only place in the country with two blues bands playing until 4 a.m. (5 a.m. on Sundays) on different stages every day of the year. It’s the oldest continuously operating blues club in the city and offers Southern-style fare from Doc’s Rib Joint. Group packages and private events can be arranged.
Across from Kingston Mines on North Halsted Street, B.L.U.E.S. is a smaller club featuring primarily local artists such as Lil’ Ed, John Primer, Vance “Guitar” Kelly, Eddie Shaw and Pistol Pete. Ideal for small groups, B.L.U.E.S. provides a cozy setting where attendees can easily connect with each other and the performers. Groups that want to visit both B.L.U.E.S. and Kingston Mines need to pay only one cover charge.
Jazz musicians came to Chicago for the same reasons that other people did: failing crops and discrimination in the South; the availability of decent-paying factory jobs during World War I; and ads in newspapers emphasizing the prospect of a better life up North.
The style of jazz in Chicago and New Orleans is similar, but some of Chicago’s jazz can sometimes be differentiated by its less relaxed feeling, greater emphasis on individual solos and somewhat smaller reliance on features of 19th-century black ethnic music. Louis Armstrong, Jimmy McPartland, Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa are among the city’s former jazz luminaries.
Green Mill Jazz Club on Uptown’s North Broadway Street dates back to 1907 and is the longest continuously running jazz club in the country. It has glamorous curved booths, sunken gardens, a rumba room upstairs, a dance floor downstairs and a green windmill on the roof.
The club features a stellar musical lineup every night, from big bands to sultry singers and bebop. It’s open until 5 a.m. on Sunday and 4 a.m. every other day. Many musicians jam until it closes.
Situated two blocks from the Magnificent Mile and downtown Loop, Andy’s Jazz Club & Restaurant offers a musical menu of Chicago’s top jazz artists. Local performers cover a range of styles, from traditional and swing to bop, fusion, Latin and Afropop. The Spotlight Performer Series events showcase some of the world’s most popular touring musicians in an intimate setting. The venue’s restaurant features American fare. Andy’s is available for private functions.
Jazz Showcase, located on South Plymouth Court, is one of the most historic jazz clubs in Chicago. Founded in 1947 by Joe Segal, it is now owned and operated by his son, Wayne Segal. The 170-seat venue, which can be rented out, features many of the top jazz performers in the city, as well as leading artists from throughout the world. It’s a cozy spot with amazing acoustics and sight lines.
When Katerina Carson decided to close her North Side club, Katerina’s, on West Irving Park Road last year, music lovers grieved over the loss of this jazz hot spot. But many of them are now excited about High-Hat Club, the new, spiffed-up venue that has opened in the space.
The club seats some 70 people, ideal for a genre that thrives in intimate spaces. The list of performers generally reflects a cross between the hard-core jazz at the Green Mill and the jazz-and-eclectic fare that defined Katerina’s. High-Hat Club also serves Creole-Italian style food and fine cocktails.
Constellation, located on Chicago’s northwest side, was founded by drummer/composer Mike Reed in April 2013. It presents progressive forward-thinking music with a focus on jazz, improvisation and contemporary classical. The club has transformed the 7,000-square-foot site that was once the Viaduct Theater to provide two performance spaces (seating 50–75 and 100–150), as well as a full bar. Special arrangements can be made for groups and the club can be rented out.
The Whistler is a specialty cocktail bar on North Milwaukee Avenue that offers music every night. Every Tuesday, it features the Relax Attack Jazz Series, including some of Chicago’s top experimental and improv jazz artists. The atmosphere is full of cocktail-shaking and spirited conversation.
Situated on the edge of Wicker Park’s vibrant nightlife quarter, Davenport’s Piano Bar & Cabaret specializes in old-fashioned cabaret reinterpreted by young, hip performers. Many of the artists mix a good dose of jazz into their shows. Davenport’s often offers more than one show on any given night; call ahead to check start and finish times. Group rentals are available on Tuesdays.
These clubs offer groups year-round entertainment in comfortable settings. Visiting them can help groups to bond. The talented artists not only provide attendees with insights into the blues and jazz scenes, but also give them a feel for the city in general, because these highly developed traditions are central to Chicago’s identity.
Superb Classical Venue
Chicago’s blues and jazz scene are legendary, but another musical genre in the Windy City—classical—is equally as prominent throughout the world. Anyone who enjoys classical music can experience an unforgettable night by attending a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (pictured) at Symphony Center, across from Millennium Park.
Founded in 1891, the orchestra is consistently hailed as one of the greatest in the world. Riccardo Muti, one of the preeminent conductors today, became the orchestra’s 10th conductor in 2010. The season runs from September through June. Groups of 10 or more receive personalized assistance and benefits through Group Services.
Symphony Center offers groups a variety of elegant spaces that can be the setting for everything from an intimate breakfast to a large meeting or social event.
Also, University Symphony Orchestra at the University of Chicago presents six major concerts per year at Mandel Hall on campus.
A Gem Up North
The 355-room Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, about a one- hour, 40 minute drive from downtown Chicago, offers groups an opportunity to view Wisconsin’s gorgeous countryside while enjoying high-quality facilities, technology services, renovated guest rooms and more. All offerings—including elegant dining options and group activities—can be customized for groups.
The resort features many physical activities, including golf, team-building exercises and group fitness classes. Grand Geneva offers 62,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 13,500-square-foot convention center.
Chicago Blues Festival (pictured) is the largest music festival in the city and largest free blues festival in the world. For three days on five stages, more than 500,000 fans enjoy legendary and up-and-coming musicians Past performers include Bonnie Raitt, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor.
The festival always occurs in early June. It takes place at Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park, adjacent to the Lake Michigan waterfront, east of the Loop. A popular four- day free celebration of jazz, Chicago Jazz Festival takes place during Labor Day weekend in Millennium Park, in the Loop area of downtown Chicago.
Known for its artistic creativity, the festival promotes awareness and appreciation for all forms of jazz through high-quality performances. Since 1979, the festival’s mission has been to showcase Chicago’s considerable jazz talent alongside national and international artists to encourage and educate a jazz audience of all ages. Past performers include Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae and Dexter Gordon.
Major Meeting Venues
Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park
Award-winning property near Chicago’s Magnificent Mile; 687 guest rooms; 11,000-square-foot spa; 63,000 sq. ft. of state-of-the-art meeting space.
Overlooks Grant Park; 1,544 guest rooms; Kitty O’Shea’s restaurant; 234,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hyatt Regency Chicago
AAA Four Diamond hotel; 2,019 guest rooms; three restaurants; 228,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile
Only hotel with front entrance on the Magnificent Mile; the 792 guest rooms feature 1920s Chicago style with a modern twist; 45,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Set to open in spring 2016 in Chicago’s historic London Guarantee Building and 22-story architecturally synchronized Modernist glass tower; 452 guest rooms; 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
McCormick Place Chicago
Largest convention center in North America; 2.6 million sq. ft. of space in four state-of-the-art buildings; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space;10,500-seat event center to be completed in September 2017.
Palmer House A Hilton Hotel
AAA Four Diamond property that dates to 1871; 1,641 guest rooms; more than 130,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago
Situated in the heart of the city; stunning architectural marvel; 334 guest rooms; steps from the lakefront; 28,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers
Downtown property on the Chicago River Walk; lake, river or city skyline are available from each of the 1,218 guest rooms; 125,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Situated at the confluence of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan; all-glass, triangular hotel; 661 elegant guest rooms; 65,000 sq. ft. of function space.
Trump Hotel Chicago
Located in the tallest reinforced concrete building in the world; 339 guest rooms, with floor-to-ceiling windows; Spa at Trump features 12 treatment rooms: 26,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Home to the Chicago Cubs; 41,000 seats; field can be rented for special events that can include catering and baseball activities; Bleacher Suite patio offers space for large events.
DoubleTree by Hilton Chicago–Oak Brook Hotel
In the heart of the business district; 428 guest rooms; 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space divided among 15 rooms.
Holiday Inn Chicago Tinley Park Convention Center
Situated 30 miles south of Chicago; 202 guest rooms; 70,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including option for up to 21 breakout rooms.
Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel
Located 15 miles from O’Hare airport; 616 guest rooms; three restaurants; Art/Museo gallery; fitness center; 53,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
North & Northwest Chicago
Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel & Conference Center
Rosemont property, steps from Donald E. Stephens Convention Center; 503 guest rooms; business center; fitness center; indoor heated pool; 55,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
Formerly known as Rosemont Convention Center; Great Expoteria restaurant; 840,000 sq. ft. of flexible exhibition space; 30,000-square-foot lobby.
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Chicago–North Shore Conference Center
Skokie property with 369 guest rooms; Jameson’s Charhouse serves high-quality steaks; 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space includes rooftop Monaco Ballroom, with breathtaking views of the Chicago skyline.
Eaglewood Resort & Spa
Located in Itaska; 295 guest rooms; top-ranked golf course; 50,000-square-foot spa; private bowling alley; 106 acres of wildlife; 37,000 sq. ft. of meeting space includes two ballrooms.
Set in wooded forest preserve; 248 guest rooms; award-winning Allgauer’s on the Riverfront restaurant; business center; more than 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hyatt Regency O’Hare
Connected to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center via a covered skyway; 1,096 guest rooms; fitness center; 110,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Pheasant Run Resort
473-room property in St. Charles; contains replica of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street; four restaurants; bar; business center; 18-hole golf course; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Situated on 95 acres in St. Charles; 1,042 guest rooms; Q Tower restaurant offers a wide variety of menu choices in a contemporary, casual setting with ocean views; 150,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel
Lifestyle hotel with 500 guest rooms; business center; fitness center; pool; 148,624 sq. ft. of meeting space (including 42 rooms) is shared with connected Schaumburg Convention Center.