Chris’ Jazz Cafe, at 1421 Sansom St., has one goal: to make people happy.
“We like to offer everybody something, regardless of the cost, or what their scene is,” said Chris Farrell, the beverage manager at Chris’. “People come to hear great jazz, get beers and food. A lot of people come for dates too.”
Good service and finger-snapping music explains why they are one of the smallest clubs to make “Downbeat Magazine’s” list of top 100 venues around the world to hear jazz. Jazz greats enjoy playing at Chris’ because it’s reminiscent of older clubs. Pianist Junior Mance said that he “hadn’t played a spot like it since the 50s.”
The club serves as a jazz art gallery of sorts with black and white photographs of musicians who graced its stage lining the walls. Patrons can see portraits of the Count Basie Orchestra members sitting in the same club, taking them back to a different era.
Chris’ also features performances by well-known artists on the weekends. On Oct. 27 and 28, Joe Piscopo, former Saturday Night Live cast member, will perform a Frank Sinatra tribute with the Jimmy Bruno band.
Tuesday nights offer a more informal atmosphere with a $2 cover charge, $2 lagers and calamari for their open jam session. It draws a diverse crowd ranging from college students new to the scene to expert musicians.
“Sometimes you’ll see a 21-year-old sitting with an old-head who is telling stories about hanging out with Charlie Parker in the 50s,” Farrell said, laughing.
On Tuesday, Oct. 10, two Temple freshmen took the stage – bassist Sean McKelvey and trumpeter Marcell Bellinger – joining three other musicians.
It can be an awkward experience to play with bandmates one is not used to, but the newly-formed group quickly found a groove with one another, soloing and changing tempos.
“It goes well as long as the rhythm section is tight,” Bellinger said. “You need communication between everybody.”
Drummer Craig Bryan, a Chris’ first-timer, said he was looking to meet musicians in the Philly jazz scene. He recently moved from North Jersey with his wife, where he used to be involved in the New York City scene.
“Here, it’s more accessible – a lot more easy-going than the crammed clubs in Manhattan,” Bryan said, holding his drumsticks waiting for a chance to play.
Chris’ provides other specials to let people on a budget enjoy good music. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday have a student discount cover of $5, which goes directly to the bands.
There are $1 Yuengling Mondays, and “buy one, get one free” wings Thursdays. Chris’ also offers $7 sandwiches and appetizers to $20 entrees such as New Orleans style jambalaya. The gourmet foods and tablecloths make the club a choice place for lunch or dinner.
Besides hosting some of the best jazz artists, Chris’ claim to fame is that it is the only place to make a “granddad’s breakfast,” a drink discovered out of boredom. It is a mixed shot containing Old Granddad whiskey and secret ingredients, somehow coming out tasting like pancakes and syrup.
Chris’ reasonable prices and relaxed atmosphere make it a great place to step into the Philly jazz scene. Their menu and artist schedule is listed at www.chrisjazzcafe.com.
Stu Jerue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.