A guide to Jazz in The Magic City

The annual Taste of 4th Avenue Jazz Festival is a great place to catch jazz in The Magic City. Photo by Larry O. Gay Photography, via Taste of 4th Ave Jazz Festival on Facebook

An animated bee once asked, “Do ya like jazz?” If you do, you’re in luck—Birmingham is a great spot for jazz lovers. We took a look at some of the greats from Birmingham, and a few places you can go to listen the unique genre of music.

Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame Museum

Birmingham, The Carver Theatre, black history
The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame Museum in the historic Carver Theatre. Photo via The Carver Theatre’s Facebook page

Founded in 1978, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame is an archive and museum dedicated to honoring the accomplishments of Alabamians in the history of jazz. The museum honors famous names in jazz from Birmingham, including:

Erskine Hawkins

Erskine Hawkins in the 1940s. Photo via Wikipedia

Born in 1914, acclaimed jazz musician and performer Erskine Hawkins was a trumpet player and big band leader from Enon Ridge in Smithfield.

Hawkins is best known for his 1939 hit, Tuxedo Junction, which payed homage to the junction in Ensley famous for its entertainment and nightlife. Since then, Tuxedo Junction has been covered by many of the jazz greats, including Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King and Nat King Cole.

Cleveland Eaton

Cleve Eaton, rehearsing with the Ray Reach Quartet and Lew Soloff, for a performance at the 2008 Taste of 4th Avenue Jazz festival in Birmingham. Photo via Wikipedia

Born in Fairfield in 1939, Cleveland Eaton studied music under John T. “Fess” Whatley, who also mentored Erskine Hawkins and Sun Ra. Eaton was a master of the piano, trumpet, and saxophone, but known for his work on the bass. Throughout his career, Eaton played with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy David, Jr. and was dubbed “The Count’s Bassist” during his 17 years in the Count Basie Orchestra. After years on the road, Eaton returned to Birmingham in 1996 to teach at UAB’s Department of Music.

Sun Ra

Sun-Ra performing at The Nick in 1988. Photo by Craig Legg, via BhamWiki

And no list of jazz musicians would be complete without the one-of-a-kind Sun Ra. Born in Birmingham in 1914, was an innovative jazz composer, bandleader, and musician. Sun Ra grew up right next to the Birmingham Terminal Station, and his album “The Magic City” refers to the station and the famous sign that greeted new arrivals.

Sun Ra died in 1993 and was buried in Birmingham’s Elmwood Cemetery. Recently, a new three-story mural in Avondale commemorates Sun Ra and three other Birmingham cultural icons.

Where to Catch the Next Jazz Legends

Jazzi’s on 3rd

Birmingham, Alabama, jazz, blues, Jazzi's on 3rd'
Photo via Jazzi’s on 3rd’s Facebook page

Inspired by the life of of the late Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame Inductee Henry Blankenship, Jazzi’s on 3rd is more than just a great spot—it’s a place to wind down with a cocktail and smooth jazz.

Alabama Jazz Festival

The first annual Alabama Jazz Festival will kick off July 17, 2021 in Railroad Park. Graphic via Alabama Jazz Festival
  • When: Saturday, July 17, 2021 at 11 AM – 2 PM
  • Where: Railroad Park

Presented by Magic City Smooth Jazz and Perfect Note, the first annual Alabama Jazz Festival had to be postponed until 2021 due to COVID-19. The goal of the festival is to create a first-class music festival that will attract a diverse audience and visitors to the city of Birmingham. The lineup will include:

  • Just A Few ‘Jazz’ Cats
  • Kim Scott
  • Lindsey Webster
  • Adam Hawley
  • Julian Vaughn
  • Pieces of a Dream
  • Kirk Whalum.

Taste of 4th Ave Jazz Festival

Visitors enjoying the performance at a precious jazz festival. Photo via Taste of 4th Ave Jazz Festival on Facebook

Held since 2003, Taste of 4th Ave Jazz Festival is a free, family-friendly music festival open to the public. Presented by the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and Urban Impact, the festival features food, swing dance lessons, exhibits and a chance to see local jazz greats perform.

Who is your favorite jazz musician from Birmingham? Tag us @bhamnow and let us know!

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Nathan Watson
Tennessee native who fell in love with Birmingham during college. Graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2019. Passionate about Birmingham and its continued growth.
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