At first I couldn’t get past the dreaded blinking cursor on the fresh Word doc. Other than the blowing of the A/C, the apartment was dead quiet. It took 29 years, an empty house, and no music playing in the background to realize that for me there’s no greater instigator of panic than silence. So I left what I thought was an ideal space for concentration to seek out some sort of remedy.
First, I tried the quickest fix: a coffeehouse down the street from my home, packed sardine-like with others like myself, only hyper-fueled by caffeine and ambition. In addition to the distracting hum and grind of the customers and the beans, the atmosphere wasn’t my cup of tea, so I decided to move on. In the end, I ended up exactly where I needed to be: at Venkman’s in the Old Fourth Ward, which was in the midst of their latest weekly jazz jam and open mic. As the noise of the bass, trumpets, and drums began to flow and find its rhythm, so did the words finally start to come together for me.
Although the Atlanta jazz scene has watched many venues come and go, musicians and jammers still manage to create the spaces they need for bass plucking, horn blowing, and key tapping. Blended between venues that serve food or exhibit art by day, or set within festivals curated by Atlanta’s jazz elite, this city’s jazz scene is still running strong. Consider this an informal guide for finding some of the best jams ATL has to offer.
Where: 740 Ralph McGill Blvd NE, O4W
When: Tuesdays, 8-11 p.m.
Info: Free, All ages
Tucked just outside Historic Fourth Ward Park on the side of a residential loft building is the restaurant and live music hybrid Venkman’s. Owners Nicholas Niespodziani and Peter Olson — themselves members of ’70s light rock tribute band Yacht Rock Revue — make it a point to create an all-inclusive music calendar that features everything from tribute shows to hip-hop and R&B to its popular Tuesday night jazz jam. This is possibly the best replacement for the much-missed Churchill Grounds, as the ritzy vibe of the restaurant welcomes a mixed crowd of locals, yuppies, tourists, and diehard music lovers alike. Host Joe Gransden’s house band is prepared to jam in a variety of formats — whether musicians want to perform bossa nova or scat, cover Miles Davis or Ella Fitzgerald, or utilize strings or horns, the band stays nimble and ready.
Elliott Street Pub
Where: 51 Elliott St SW, Castleberry Hill
When: Tuesdays, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.
Info: Free, 21+
While Venkman’s jazz jam maintains a more traditional feel, the Tuesday night sessions at Elliott Strett Pub are a no-holds-barred, experimental free-for-all where almost anything can happen. Located in Castleberry Hill, Elliott Street Pub maintains a kind of diamond-in-the-rough feel, and the venue inside the bar is even more underground than the Pub itself. Although there’s considerable commotion surrounding the new football stadium, come to ESP if you’re feeling adventurous as the area remains an expressively artistic neighborhood. The ring leader of this jam, seasoned bassist Kevin Scott, switches up musicians quite often, which provides an element of constant surprise and anticipation for its typically younger crowd.
Where: 645 Shelton Ave SW, West End
When: Tuesdays, 7-11 p.m.
Info: Free, All ages
New to the city’s jazz scene, but definitely making noise, is the jam session every Monday at the ARTlanta Gallery. Located just inside the West End at the Metropolitan Lofts complex, this particular jam takes care to tie in elements of hip-hop and soul into their freeform explorations. The way They Know TK and his band blend contemporary urban music with jazz brings to mind the crossover styles of groups like Streetwize and the Robert Glasper Experiment, and allows for a broader range of musicians and guests to stop by and join in the combination jam session and open mic.
Where: 992 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd, West End
When: Sundays, 9 p.m-12 a.m.
Info: Free, All ages
Speaking of the West End, we can’t forget the jam sessions every Sunday at Gallery 992 on Ralph David Abernathy. Led by owner and Grammy Award-winning tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams, this is fast becoming one of the most sought after and attended jams in Atlanta. And we haven’t even mentioned Williams’ band, the Wolfpack, who roam every corner of the local music scene! Although he doesn’t play at every jam — that’s the beauty of jam culture, you never know who’s going to show up — the high talent level, combined with the overall thirst for more spaces to play, make this one of the more exciting and unpredictable sessions currently going.
So let this serve as an introduction on how to maneuver within this ever-changing jazz scene, where as one staple shuts down, another seems to take its place. This toast we know as Atlanta has a variety of delicious jams that spread evenly with ease. So why not bite down and enjoy it.
Do you know of some other jazz jams that we should be checking out? Tell us about it in the comments.