The days are long gone when jazz music was the dominant cultural influence in America, and this city was a hub for legendary touring bands that came through regularly during the early 20th century. Jazz has been officially a niche market for the last 40 or 50 years, dating back to the birth of rock ’n' roll and the death of John Coltrane. But that niche market boasts high incomes, education and, above all else, loyalty to the product. The continual big crowds for our jazz festival for 35 years is a case in point.
In the summer of 2017, a renaissance of sorts in the city’s long-dormant jazz scene emerged, with a number of high-profile public events, bookended by Chick Corea’s headlining performance at the festival in May, the instant-classic set by Kumasi Washington that preceded it that weekend, and Marcus Printup’s gig at The Parlour in August, which occasioned a mini-reunion of UNF Jazz program alumni. So, with the numbers ticking steadily upward among the musicians and their fans, it makes perfect sense that the summer would also include the appearance of a couple new jazz venues in town—but three?
Yeah, four. Now, the concept of a functioning full-time jazz club might seem anachronistic these days, especially in Jacksonville, where such a thing is considerably more unusual than usual. But that has not always been the case, and in 2017, it seems to be the case no longer.
Breezy Jazz Club opened its doors Downtown the weekend of June 30. It’s at 119 W. Adams St., between Hogan and Laura, situated on a block historic for its centrality to the city’s live music scene, across the street from De Real Ting Café, which used to be the Milk Bar, and less than a block down from what once was the mythical Moto Lounge. (Right next door stands The Volstead, which nearly shuttered before a last-minute intervention by investors, ensuring its continued primacy within the scene.) Owner Thea Jeffers has quickly become a fixture in the neighborhood, and its Sunday Jazz Brunch (catered by Chef Windle Grissett) is already a highlight of any self-respecting weekend.
Breezy joined Jazzland Café as the city’s second dedicated spot for jazz, followed just days later by a third, Miles Jaye’s Manhattan Jazz Café. Jaye’s jazz club—the fourth to open under his name, but the first to operate under his total control—sits at 2111 University Blvd. N., near Jacksonville University, where the old Angelo’s Restaurant used to be. The club stands out from the street; the sign stands out from a distance, and drivers can see the stage from the road. The lease is already paid up through the end of the year, which provides some breathing room, as far as the booking; there's not quite the level of pressure that many start-ups may feel. On most nights, you can see the owner himself glad-handing patrons and serving food from the kitchen, when he’s not onstage playing keyboards or violin.
Jazzland isn’t far away, at 1324 University Blvd., near the intersection with Arlington Road, which leaves them at some disadvantage for drawing the crowds needed to truly thrive within what is and will likely always be a decidedly niche market. But through perseverance and very effective booking, owner Carole Freeman (herself an adept singer) has kept the place going since November 2010—testament to her tenacity and her persistent advocacy for the music. Their Tuesday-night jam sessions offer the best opportunity to check it out.
Whereas these venues tend to feature more traditional, even smooth jazz, +SoLo in Five Points caters to the far reaches of modern improvised music. Up on the second floor of the Hoptinger building (formerly Fuel Coffeehouse) at 1037 Park St., +SoLo is the brainchild of saxophonist Jamison Williams, who almost single-handedly made free jazz a thing in Northeast Florida, curating performance spaces while steadily releasing albums in his own unmistakable style.
These newer venues join longstanding outlets like The Parlour, Mudville Grille in St. Nicholas and Stogies in St. Augustine as places to see live jazz in Northeast Florida, and as the summer transitions into fall, all signs point to continued momentum for the music. Those who said jazz offered no appeal to young audiences and had no relevance to contemporary concerns have already been proved wrong. Just how wrong, exactly, remains to be seen.