The melodies have enchanted Richmond for decades. Soulful tunes that fill the bars, parks, and museums - those that have become an iconic part of the city’s personality. 

While all music genres thrive in Virginia’s capital city, there’s a particularly vibrant jazz scene. From historic Shockoe Bottom to bustling Carytown, an array of jazz styles can be found–those performances that entice the most passionate jazz enthusiasts and those for the music lovers looking to experience a special side of the River City. 

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Photo Credit: Chad Williams, @echadwilliams

Nestled within the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts lies one of Richmond’s most popular jazz offerings. The Dominion Energy Jazz Café, situated in the museum’s spacious Cochrane Atrium, showcases jazz musicians from around the region. Created through a partnership with the Richmond Jazz Society, the free event is hosted each Wednesday from 6-8pm, with hundreds often attending each week. 

“The series highlights our Virginia regional artists who perform all styles of jazz from mainstream to contemporary,” says B.J. Brown, the society’s executive director. “You’d better get there early if you want a seat!”


Another Wednesday night live jazz opportunity can be found at Lolita’s. Located in Carytown, the upscale Mexican restaurant offers live Latin jazz from 6-9pm. Patrons can savor flavorful dishes and enjoy the evening’s special $20 wine bottles while listening to the serenading harmonies of Peña Verde or the Ben Eisenberg Trio - two bands the eatery currently alternates between. 

“The ambiance we create is what makes Lolita's Latin Jazz Wednesdays unique,” says co-owner Karina Garcia. “It's a perfect wine-down Wednesday.”


Other nightly venues include The Tin Pan, a restaurant and listening room, which hosts jazz artists weekly - many of whom specialize in smooth jazz. Gallery5 and Révéler Experiences also offer monthly jazz. 

“They do an excellent job of presenting jazz, blues, world beat, Afro-fusion, experimental jazz and everything in between,” says B.J. Brown. 


But while evenings flourish with jazz, there is a scattering of day performances, including a somewhat new event at Ironclad Coffee Roasters & Baking Co

Every Monday from 11am-1pm, guests can sip on a cup of coffee while listening to jazz that focuses on bebop, cool jazz, and hard bop styles. 

“We’re seeing many of the same faces each week even though we’re only two months in,” says founder Ryan O’Rourke. “There are only a handful of places you can go in Richmond to hear bonafide jazz music of this style.” 


The shop acquired a 1928 mahogany Chickering piano to use for these performances. George Cruz, their pianist (and the originator of the jazz sessions), collaborates with other local musicians to bring new sounds weekly. The Grace Street Seven also frequently drop by - an in-demand vintage jazz band.  

Established by Jay Brown, the Grace Street Seven has been performing since 2017 and specializes in jazz from the 1920s and ‘30s.

“People are searching for the sound we offer,” says Jay Brown. “It's not new jazz, jazz funk, bop or post-bop style jazz. We are playing transcribed tunes from the gramophone era so many elements in our presentation sound different than the way modern jazz is played.”

Verdant Lady

The Grace Street Seven can be found at numerous places around town. A frequent haunt is the West End’s Verdant Lady, a chic cocktail bar, which they typically play at on the first Monday of most months. 

Each September, the band performs on the lawn of the Wilton House Museum for the Art Deco Society of Virginia’s Gatsby Afternoon Picnic. They’re also regulars at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s Flowers After Five concert series. 

“Our mission is to keep the sound of early jazz alive and to supply those who seek it with quality live music that is sophisticated yet cheeky for their events,” says Jay Brown. 

Richmond Jazz Festival at The Hippodrome Theater

Jazz was developed in the late 19th century and early 20th century with strong roots in New Orleans. The genre was primarily established by African-American musicians who were influenced by other music forms, like blues, ragtime and hymns. The growing genre often combined African and European music traditions to create a unique form of expression. But while jazz might have emerged in NOLA, Richmond significantly contributed to its development and growth. 

Around the 1920s, several jazz groups started forming around the city, including Johnson’s Happy Pals. The famous ensemble traveled the country from the ‘20s to ‘40s performing and often winning Big Band competitions. 

Hippodrome Theater in Richmond's Jackson Ward neighborhood

Jackson Ward also became a hotspot. Known as the “Harlem of the South”, legendary acts would stop by its nightclubs and venues, including the Hippodrome, where distinguished musicians like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie mingled and played. 

The Richmond Mosque (now the Altria Theater), the long-lost dance hall Tantilla Gardens, and Northside’s Market Inn were other favored outlets as the years rolled by, despite some ebb and flow in the city’s jazz scene at the time. 

Richmond is also home to many renowned players, including internationally acclaimed artists such as Al Foster, Lonnie Liston Smith, Jr., J. Plunky Branch, and Butcher Brown - those who have helped advance and continue to experiment with jazz. 

“The audiences for jazz in Richmond have grown to be wonderfully diverse in their demographics – old and young; rich and struggling; all shades of Black, Brown, and white; urban, suburban, and rural,” says B.J. Brown. “The development of such an audience is the dream of any art form. Jazz music is a visual and aural thread that keeps us woven in a tapestry of mutual musical accord.”

Richmond Jazz Festival at Maymont

As appreciation for this genre grows, Richmond’s jazz scene will only keep expanding. Apart from regular monthly gatherings, yearly events are also part of the city’s annual calendar. Just last year, the Richmond Jazz and Music Festival was held in August at Maymont. Throughout the summer, locals were also treated to the free Byrd Park’s Jazz at the Fountain. 

“Our city’s jazz scene is wide-ranging and inclusive,” says B.J. Brown. “I’d like for everyone to see RVA not just stand for Richmond, Virginia, but also for the Respect, Value, and Advocacy of America’s cultural heritage music – jazz.”