The BLOG: Culture

For world-class jazz up close and personal, try Regattabar, Scullers Jazz Club

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

It’s not hard to find live jazz in the Boston area. Hotels feature it at brunch on Sundays. Colleges and universities hold jazz concerts at their larger performance venues. Restaurants, from higher-end dining establishments to neighborhood hangs, hire small groups — often duos or trios — during the week or on weekends, usually to provide background music for diners.

It’s a bit more difficult to find to find established stars playing America’s art form in what many consider its true home — the jazz nightclub. Gone are the days when you could hear world-class jazz any night of the week in a number of clubs in and around Boston. You can still hear it, to be sure, but the opportunities — and the venues — are far fewer than in years past. Boston’s jazz clubs often mix in other types of music, from New Age to blues, R&B, Latin or pop. And so many clubs that had featured live acts almost every night now open their doors only one or two evenings a week, if that.

Should you want to hear jazz performed in an intimate setting by internationally acclaimed artists, your best bet is to check out two mainstream jazz clubs in the Boston area — Scullers and the Regattabar. Both are in hotels, both abut the Charles River (hence their nautical names) and both offer an opportunity to hear national and international stars as well as up-and-coming local artists.

The Regattabar

When the Regattabar opened in 1985 at the Charles Hotel at 1 Bennett Street in Harvard Square, it filled a need. After the closure of The Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall in the Back Bay in the late 1970s, Boston had been without a club that could book the likes of a Miles Davis or Charles Mingus.

Over the years, the Regattabar has been host to such world-class acts as the Mingus Big Band, Ahmad Jamal and Ron Carter.

Today, the Regattabar still is home to world-class jazz stars. Upcoming performers include Michel Camilo, Bill Charlap and Kenny Barron. Nationally known acts that got their start in Boston, such as the Either/Orchestra and Luciana Souza, also play the Regattabar.

The club has clean, modern décor, and a stage that is up-close and personal. In the first row, you are only feet away from the performers. And you’re not far from the action even at the edges of the 220-seat room. The Regattabar is only open a few nights a week, so checking ahead of time to make sure there is a show that night is essential. The club is run and booked separately from the hotel, so for information on shows, go to the website  or call the box office at 617-395-7757. Bookings are handled out of New York City by The Blue Note Jazz Club.

Scullers Jazz Club

Scullers made an immediate impact on the Boston jazz scene when it opened in 1989 in Allston, just off the Massachusetts Turnpike and only a few miles down the Charles River from the Regattabar.

Like so many clubs and venues around the world these days, including the Regattabar, jazz isn’t the only music on the menu, but it predominates. On any given night, you might hear world music, cabaret or blues. It’s essential that you call ahead before going, because Scullers doesn’t have music every night — or even every week — and shows are often sold out. Upcoming acts include such stars as saxophonist David Sanborn and Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval as well as local performers.

With its dark wood and intimate lighting, Scullers has as much the look/feel of a pricey steak house or a university club as it does a jazz venue. And its patrons are as likely to be businessmen and women staying in the hotel as they are hardcore jazz fans. It’s a good place to go on a first date — or a second or third date.

The club offers dinner-show packages with a meal in the adjoining dining room before the show. Or you can opt for the Jazz Overnighter package and stay in one of the hotel’s suites.

The acts are booked by Fred Taylor, a local jazz impresario who handled music at The Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall in Boston in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Scullers is at 400 Soldiers Field Rd. in Allston. For more information, visit the website, send them an email or call 617-562-4111.

Tom Nutile

Tom Nutile

Tom Nutile can be reached at [email protected]