Jazz Destinations: Kansas City

The J.C. Nichols Fountain in Kansas City, Missouri, home to great barbecue and an even better jazz scene. 

Kansas City, Missouri, has a special place in jazz history. It was the hometown of Charlie Parker and the spot where Count Basie and his orchestra first started swinging. And for a while in the 1920s and ‘30s, the city was practically the epicenter of the American big band scene. Located halfway between the East and West coasts, KC was the perfect hub for traveling bands making their way across the country by train. It’s no coincidence that the city’s homegrown jazz style — Kansas City swing — was defined by its easy-going attitude, heavy blues influence and train-like rhythmic drive.

The city itself has a similar vibe — laid-back and charmingly Midwestern yet humming with great nightlife, dining and culture. So if you’re planning a trip to Kansas City — the “Paris of the Plains” — and you’d like to add some jazz to your itinerary, here are some of our favorite local spots.  

Where to Listen

The Phoenix

The Phoenix, in downtown Kansas City’s hip Burgeoning Garment District, is a true original, housed in a historic hotel — same say it was more of a bordello — that was built in 1888 and that at one time harbored a speak-easy. These days, The Phoenix is the place to find some of the best jazz music in Kansas City, with live jazz five nights a week and a popular jazz brunch on Saturday and Sunday mornings. But the musicians aren’t the only local treasures you’ll find there. The club also offers a full menu of iconic Kansas City fare and a number of local brews.

More info: thephoenixkc.com

Green Lady Lounge

When it comes to jazz in Kansas City, no one does it more consistently — or more authentically — than The Green Lady Lounge. The club places a premium on showcasing Kansas City jazz musicians in the rich Kansas City tradition. What’s more, they do it 365 days a year. The ambiance is free of televisions, which means you can focus on music, atmosphere and conversation. But that’s not to say it’s drab or stuffy. With its red velvet walls, glistening chandeliers and vintage oil paintings, the atmosphere at the Green Lady Lounge is all about style and sophistication. Enjoy a swanky cocktail delivered by a waiter dressed to the nines, then indulge in a cheese plate as you listen to some of the best music KC has to offer.

More info: greenladylounge.com

Where to Eat

The Majestic Restaurant

The Majestic Restaurant is more than just a fine dining establishment. It’s also the site of a jazz club, full-service bar and cigar lounge. Located in the famous Fitzpatrick Saloon building, the Majestic Restaurant serves some of the best dry-aged Kansas City Steaks for lunch and dinner seven days a week along with fantastic chops, fresh seafood and homemade desserts. You can also enjoy a fantastic bottle of wine, one of more than one hundred whiskeys, or a handcrafted cocktail while listening to some of the best Kansas City jazz nightly.

More info: majestickc.com

Kansas City-style Barbecue


No writeup of Kansas City’s food scene would be complete without mentioning barbecue. It’s embedded in the city’s history, and some claim you can even trace the Kansas City barbecue tradition back to a single pit master, Henry Perry, who came to KC from Tennessee in the 1900s. Kansas City’s take on BBQ — spice-rubbed, slow-smoked and doused in a thick, tomatoey sauce — is second to none. And really, you can’t go wrong with any of the city’s barbecue spots. So rather than pick our favorite and wind up with a small riot in the comment section, we’ve decided to share a few. Joe’s Bar-B-Que, located in a gas station at the corner of 47th and Mission, is a must-eat destination. But if you’re up for something fancier, there’s always Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, which has various locations around town. LC’s Bar-B-Q is a top spot for ribs, Arthur Bryant’s is a classic and Q39 keeps things innovative.

What to See

The American Jazz Museum

In the 1930s and ‘40s, Kansas City’s 18th & Vine Jazz District was a close cousin to New York’s 52nd Street and L.A.’s Central Avenue, a bustling hub for jazz, blues and African-American business and culture. Today, it’s the site of The American Jazz Museum, which showcases the sights and sounds of jazz through interactive exhibits and films. During your visit, see historic artifacts such as Charlie Parker’s Grafton saxophone and a sequined gown worn by Ella Fitzgerald, then stay for a performance at the museum’s on-location jazz club, The Blue Room. Admission is $10 for adults ($9 for seniors), and there are special ticket prices for the American Jazz Museum’s sister institution, the neighboring Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

More info: americanjazzmuseum.org

Where to Stay

The Fontaine

Located in the heart of Kansas City’s upscale Country Club Plaza, The Fontaine is a sophisticated destination for travelers with a mind for art and design. Upon entering, visitors can expect custom tile mosaics inset into the gleaming marble floor, intricately carved wood paneling and playful Renaissance artwork adorning the walls. And that’s not to mention the hand-blown Venetian glass chandeliers floating overhead. Look higher and you might catch a glimpse of Parker, the proprietary rooftop restaurant where guests can indulge in progressive American cuisine with a unique twist on comfort classics.

More info: thefontainehotel.com

Crossroads Kansas City

The Crossroads, located in Kansas City’s bustling arts district, is the place where “the historic and modern meet.” With 131 luxuriously appointed rooms and several beautifully designed event spaces, the Crossroads is a loving renovation of two iconic KC buildings into a community-driven hotel. Prepare for a night of great jazz with a meal at the hotel’s old-world Italian restaurant, Lazia, or grab a drink and some late-night anitpasta at the lively lobby cocktail bar. The hotel also houses a 2,000 square-foot gallery dedicated to showcasing local art. With plenty of room options available — including the Tom Pendergast suite, named after a Kansas City political legend, and the Harry S. Truman parlor — you’re sure to experience an unforgettable stay.

More info: crossroadshotelkc.com

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