Columbia is a Jazz Town -- A Guest Blog by Andy Bell

In a town dominated by college football and rowdy bars, people are often surprised to learn that Columbia offers plenty of opportunities to listen to live jazz.  Several of these events happen on a weekly basis, with each event offering a different flavor of jazz experience.  Jasper offers this comprehensive guide to these weekly events to help you navigate Columbia’s jazz scene.

(A note about the art above from Tom Law, Conundrum Proprietor:  By the most excellent Clark Smith, my best friend and fellow trombonist way back in days of yore at Keenan Junior High School. He now lives in Connecticut and hasn't even been able to visit Conundrum as of yet, but he has followed its progress from afar. Clark and I were born on the same day in the same year, but he was born in Guam, and he won't stop bragging about it. The QR Code and the Japanese script in the top corners were painted by Clark's excellent son Ian Clark Smith. You can scan the code with your phone and it takes you to a place on the internets!   I won't tell you where! Ian has visited Conundrum on three occasions, and he now volunteers at John Zorn's The Stone in NYC.)


Conundrum Music Hall: The Conundrum Jazz Sessions

Trombonist Dr. Mitch Butler, professor of music at Claflin University, leads this jam session with his trio. Unlike the more crowded fare at Speakeasy and Hunter Gatherer, Conundrum Music Hall provides an intimate listening room atmosphere that allows the audience to focus on the musicians making their art.  These sessions are a rewarding opportunity for jazz aficionados and curious newcomers alike to get an up-close experience with Columbia’s local jazz talent.  Presented in partnership with Think Jazz Columbia.

626 Meeting Street, 9pm-12am, $3 cover (waived for musicians who sit in)


Speakeasy: The Tony Lee Group

Drummer and bandleader Tony Lee kicks off the weekend at Speakeasy, joined by the always expressive Joelle Kittrell on vocals, Zach Bingham Jones on bass.  Jazz standards in their first set give way to soulful, rock-tinged blues and funk as the evening goes on. Guitar lovers will enjoy Bingham’s versatility, tone, and chops on the instrument.  Between its classy atmosphere and skilled bartending staff, it’s clear why Speakeasy is the last bastion of live jazz in Five Points.

711 Saluda Avenue, 9pm-12am, 21+, no cover

Hunter Gatherer: Jazz Night

Jazz Night at Hunter Gatherer is led by saxophonist and raspy crooner Skipp Pearson, a local favorite.   Mr. Pearson and his band play a set of jazz standards, followed by a jam session led by trumpeter Mark Rouse that showcases both local veterans and up-and-comers of all ages.  While they play a variety of jazz and fusion tunes, Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy Mercy Mercy” and Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” are musician favorites.  Presented by The Skipp Pearson Jazz Foundation.

900 Main Street, 9pm-12am, 21+, $3 cover


Le Café Jazz


This intimate restaurant treats its guests to an up-close live jazz experience while they dine.  A small group, usually a duo comprised of a double bassist and pianist, offers a stripped-down approach to jazz and blues standards, with the occasional drop-in by saxophonist Skipp Pearson.  Presented by The Skipp Pearson Foundation.


Located in Finlay Park, off of Laurel Street

8pm-?, no cover


Speakeasy: The Robert Gardiner Quartet

Bandleader and saxophonist Robert Gardiner has led this gig every Saturday at Speakeasy for nearly ten years.  Gardiner’s visceral, eccentric improvisations are supported by a rhythm section (comprised of Zach Bingham on guitar, Phil Jones on bass, and Brendan Bull on drums) that holds it down and swings hard.  The group sticks primarily to jazz standards from the 40s through 60s, with some of Gardiner’s original jazz compositions thrown into the mix.  They are often joined by guest musicians later in the evening.

711 Saluda Avenue, 10pm-1am, 21+, no cover


Sheraton Rooftop Bar: The Reggie Sullivan Band

While The Reggie Sullivan Band is technically a rock band, its members (vocalist and double bassist Reggie Sullivan, guitarist Zach Bingham, keyboardist Nick Brewer, and drummer Brendan Bull) are also four of the finest jazz musicians in town.  The band mixes jazz standards with their own brand of danceable covers and original tunes, driven by Sullivan’s exceptional abilities as a vocalist and performer.  Live music combined with a unique view of Columbia provides for a stimulating evening of entertainment.  This event runs weekly through January, weather permitting.

1400 Main Street  Columbia, SC 29201 6-9 pm, no cover