Throughout two years of living in bella Roma, I have immersed myself in the blues and jazz scene with a willing ear and an open-mind. Five of the best jazz and blues venues I’ve discovered are:
La Casa del Jazz
“House of Jazz” is the perfect name for this recently renovated and refurbished home of jazz legends. All of the greats perform here, and every great wants to perform here.
American jazz guitarist Larry Coryell performed here with fellow American bassist Jeff Berlin in 2008, along with a sweet medley of saucy tunes from Larry’s singer-wife, Tracey.
Before Mr. Coryell headed to Pomeroy, Ohio to lead a workshop at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch, he had this to say about his performance at La Casa del Jazz: “It’s one of the hippest gigs I’ve played in the 21st century.
The beautiful auditorium, the people working here, the park, the great restaurant with pictures of Anita O’Day and Sarah Vaughan on the walls. Wow! It’s the kind of place musicians dream about.”
The auditorium is designed with comfortable, cushioned stadium seats, and wooden beams running from floor to ceiling, draped with sound dampening curtains. There’s a bookstore full of treasures, including Oscar Peterson’s rare albums and an extensive collection of Italian and American contemporaries.
The La Casa del Jazz is located near Testaccio in southwest Rome. It is easily reached by metro, bus, or taxi.
The “Beer Station” hosts many blues, rock, and jazz greats, including one of my favorites: Derek Trucks. Trucks is so smooth at age 29 that you’d think he’s been playing for three lifetimes, long before his uncle, Butch Trucks, introduced him to the rest of the Allman Brothers Band.
Hearing Derek in this intimate venue was heaven, not only because of Trucks’ impressive slide guitar, but also because of the inviting interior of the Stazione Birra. The venue is two floors, full of tables covered with aperitivo, Italian styled BBQ, and home-brewed beer (chiara or rossa).
This rocking venue brings me back to my favorite music clubs on the East Coast in the U.S. and the tunes played here resonate for days, weeks, and even months afterward. The Stazione Birra is quite far from the city center, but well worth the trip, even though a taxi or a friend’s car is needed for the last leg of the journey.
Alexanderplatz Jazz Club
Alexanderplatz is “il piu antico jazz club di Roma,” the oldest jazz club in Rome.
This is one of the smallest and one of the best underground jazz clubs in Rome, famous also for its summer jazz festival in the Villa Celia Montana. You become immediately aware of Alexanderplatz’s rich history upon entering the locale, alive with thousands of signatures on its cavernous, white walls.
I had the pleasure of meeting Stefano Bollani at the Alexanderplatz. Bollani, arguably the greatest jazz pianist of his time, performs regularly at the Blue Note in New York City. Signor Bollani’s aura– with his wiry and unkempt hair–reflects that of Alexanderplatz: a rumpled and crowded, yet classy and swanky nightclub.
The venue serves a late pre-show dinner (reservations needed), along with a pricey negroni or martini; however, the best part of the club is the intimacy between the music and audience. There is no stage, but a small nucleus between the cave’s winding autograph-littered walls where the musicians stake their territory.
The vibrations of the upright bass or the trickling trumpet bleats will follow you to the bar, to the closet restroom, up the stairs and outside to the Roman street where well-dressed Italians smoke cigars.
Alexanderplatz is located near the Vatican.
The Boogie Club
The Boogie Club is so good that it was worth the 45 minute bus ride and subsequent two mile walk (which might have been avoided with a map, a taxi, and the right bus route).
This well-hidden blues pub is a full of boogie, beer, and bliss. Black and white photos of American blues legends like B.B. King and Robert Johnson line the walls and old-school videos of Elvis and Aretha play in the corners. There is enough room for a small front stage and plenty of table room if you get there early.
Beers come in big steins, hot panini can be ordered until closing time, and the friendly staff is a plus. One of the regular bands is Mississippi Mood, which attributes its name and influences to the Mississippi Delta blues. The crowd is always hopping, of all ages, and because of its distant location, is full of locals and die-hard blues fans.
Depending on the band, you may step back into the soulful 70s or into folk’s early 60s or witness a tribute to Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Another great blues club, on par with the Boogie Club, is Big Mama, located in the central zone of Trastevere.
Be Bop Jazz Club
Be Bop is the smallest jazz venue mentioned here, but no less special than the others. Not quite as alluring and eclectic as Alexanderplatz, Be Bop has its own appeal, including black and white video footage of jazz masters such as Wes Montgomery and John Coltrane during the performance interludes.
Be Bop is a two-minute walk from the Piramide in the zone Testaccio.
Local’s tip: Each of these clubs requires a first-timer fee plus la tessera, the membership card. There’s great satisfaction knowing that a card in your wallet proves you are now a member of Rome’s jazz and blues world. Yet that satisfaction really comes from becoming an integral part of the intimate audience, soaking in the soul, funk, blues and jazz in these special locales.
Music, food, and art: the travel trifecta. Read about slow food and slow travel in Italy here and traveling in Italy on a tight budget here. And be sure to check out the art section in the Green Guide to Florence, which can be found here.