Jazz in San Francisco: History and Where to Hear It
When you see the Tony Bennett statue outside of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, you will gain a better understanding of how San Francisco has embraced its jazz history. In December 1961, in the hotel’s famous Venetian Room, Bennett first sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” The song quickly became one of the city’s official anthems. Dedicated in 2016, the statue signifies the city’s ongoing love affair with the song, the music and musicians who make it. And, if you go to a baseball game at AT&T Park, there is nothing like hearing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco” played after a Giants victory.
Much has been written about the historic jazz clubs from the 1950s and 60s — Jazz Workshop, The Blackhawk, Basin Street West, Todd Barkan’s Keystone Korner—and the classic jazz albums recorded in the city, including Thelonious Monk’s 1959 album Alone in San Francisco, the 1961 Miles Davis album In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk, Complete, and Duke Ellington’s Concert of Sacred Music at Grace Cathedral from 1965.
San Francisco always honors its jazz and blues history while listening for what will push the music forward. The city also continues to celebrate jazz and blues as an art form that is best experienced live and in the moment.
This summer, the city and region will host jazz and blues concerts, festivals and numerous free outdoor events including:
- 35th San Francisco Jazz Festival, June 7-18
- Monterey International Pop Festival, June 16-18
- North Beach Festival, June 17-18
- Fillmore Jazz Festival, July 1-2
- Chinatown Music Festival, Aug. 12
- Stern Grove Festival, June 25-Aug. 27
- Yerba Buena Gardens Festival through Oct. 29
- Monterey Jazz Festival, Sept. 15-17
Where to Hear Jazz in San Francisco
San Francisco offers live jazz and blues each and every night of the week in various settings. See international artists in state-of-the-art auditoriums or local artists in historic cocktail lounges, unique dive bars, iconic restaurants, modern art galleries and off-the-beaten path record stores and book stores.
SFJAZZ Center (201 Franklin St.)
The award-winning SFJAZZ Center opened in Hayes Valley in 2013 and boasts the 700-seat Robert N. Miner Auditorium and the 100-seat Joe Henderson Lab, showcasing the biggest names in international music and the best of the Bay Area’s local jazz scene. Enjoy a show and a cocktail at B-Side, the lounge in the SFJAZZ Center. www.sfjazz.org
Biscuits & Blues (401 Mason St.)
For over 20 years, Biscuits & Blues has been one of the country’s most iconic blues clubs. Located in the theater district near Union Square, Biscuits & Blues has been voted America's #1 blues nightclub by the Blues Foundation and the Bay Area Blues Society. The club presents both legendary and up-and-coming artists from around the world, combined with a menu featuring Southern classics. www.biscuitsandblues.com
Boom Boom Room (1601 Fillmore St.)
The Boom Boom Room hosts local and international blues, funk, jam bands, and everything in between. A place known to have shows go late into the night, welcoming artists who have finished shows at other venues, the Boom Boom Room is a laid-back venue that attracts a younger crowd looking to dance the night away.
Black Cat (400 Eddy St.)
A modern take on the vintage supper club, Black Cat is located in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, the historic arts and entertainment district once home to fabled jazz venues such as The Blackhawk. The downstairs music space features live music nightly from a wide variety of local and touring artists. www.blackcatsf.com
Feinstein’s at the Nikko (222 Mason St.)
The Hotel Nikko in Union Square houses the eponymous Feinstein’s. Founded by the Ambassador of the American Songbook, Michael Feinstein, Feinstein’s at the Nikko presents top Broadway artists, cabaret singers, and today’s best interpreters of the Great American Songbook. www.feinsteinsatthenikko.com
Club Deluxe (1511 Haight St.)
One of the city’s live music gems, Club Deluxe, located at the famed corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets, presents a wide array of local jazz and blues bands, as well as monthly burlesque and comedy shows. With a bar built in 1949, Club Deluxe harkens back to San Francisco’s live music scene of the 1950s and 60s.
The Royal Cuckoo Organ Lounge (3202 Mission St.)
Located in the Mission District, The Royal Cuckoo Organ Lounge is a kitschy bar that is both swanky and divey in just the right proportions. It features a house Hammond B-3 organ, played by the area’s best organists, along with a huge record collection. You can request songs from a library card catalog system.
Comstock Bar (155 Columbus Ave.)
In North Beach, Comstock is a pre-Prohibition cocktail bar experience. With the musicians perched high above the bar, you can hear live jazz nightly as you sip specialty cocktails along the 20-foot mahogany bar from 1907.
Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio (39 Fell St.)
A hideaway on Fell Street, Mr. Tipple’s presents live jazz nightly alongside inventive cocktails in a dark and sophisticated space.
Burritt Room & Tavern Restaurant (417 Stockton St.)
Named for Burritt Alley, where detective Sam Spade's partner Miles Archer was gunned down in The Maltese Falcon, Burritt Room in the Mystic Hotel is an intimate, film noir-inspired bar that features live jazz to go along with hand crafted cocktails and modern American cooking. www.burritttavern.com
BIX Restaurant (56 Gold St.)
Named in honor of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke and located off an alley near Jackson Square, BIX has been described as a civilized speakeasy, a supper club, and an elegant saloon, offering modern American cuisine served in a soaring two-story dining room to the strains of live jazz nightly. www.bixrestaurant.com
Cafe Claude (7 Claude Lane)
A French restaurant on Claude Lane off Union Square, Cafe Claude provides a taste of the Left Bank with live jazz on most weekends.
Sheba Piano Lounge (1419 Fillmore St.)
Located in the Fillmore District, Sheba Piano Lounge is an intimate bar and lounge where you can enjoy live music nightly to go with some of the area’s best Ethiopian cuisine.
Le Colonial (20 Cosmo Place)
A few blocks from Union Square, Le Colonial serves French-inspired Vietnamese cuisine against the backdrop of live jazz, Monday to Friday, featuring music from the Django Reinhardt-influenced group, Le Jazz Hot, and the sultry soul sounds of Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers. www.lecolonial.com
Pier 23 (Pier 23 on the Embarcadero)
Pier 23 Cafe is a time-honored restaurant and bar located right on the Embarcadero and San Francisco Bay. Known for fresh seafood, unique cocktails, and bay views, Pier 23 presents nightly live music from local jazz and blues artists, Latin jazz bands and New Orleans-inspired groups.
Bird & Beckett Books and Records (653 Chenery St.)
Named for legendary saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker and Irish novelist Samuel Beckett, Bird & Beckett in Glen Park is a true neighborhood hotspot that features weekly jazz concerts, allowing you to hear and read about jazz at the same time.
Noise - Vinyl Records & Original Art (3427 Balboa St.)
Off the beaten path in the Outer Richmond and only a few blocks from Land’s End, saxophonist Danny Brown and his family operate one of the city’s best record stores and art galleries that features live jazz and jam sessions every Sunday afternoon.
Madrone Art Bar (500 Divisadero St.)
An ever-changing art gallery, Madrone presents local funk, jazz, and brass bands that play everything from James Brown to Brazilian samba. The music regularly turns the bar into a dance party.
KCSM is one of the few 24-hour non-commercial jazz radio stations in the country. So, before you pack your bags to visit the Bay Area and once you return home, tune into KCSM/91.1 online to hear what is happening when you are in town and what you're missing after you have left your heart in San Francisco.