While Nashville is known as the music city of the United States for its wide array of live music and entertainment, we have our own music city right here in the Midwest: St. Louis. Known for its deep roots in blues and jazz music, which later evolved into other forms such as country and soul music, St. Louis has become a major hub for live music. As the Gateway city, people passed through on their way out West. As migration occurs, more genres and musical traditions are expanded and settled in St. Louis.
Perhaps one of the most influential genres to settle in St. Louis was blues. Blues music traveled through the Mississippi Delta during the 20th century and made its way to St. Louis. Once here, the genre took a form of its own.
“The St. Louis blues has a soulful, grounded sound,” says Phil Dunlap, adjunct professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Director of Education for Jazz STL. “It comes from the humanity of the people and the struggles they went through during the rise of the blues era. Blues music is ever evolving, always adapting to the times.”
Dunlap is not only an educator, but also a professional performer. He has performed at numerous concerts in St. Louis and was awarded the 30 under 30 award by the St. Louis Business journal for his work as a performer and his efforts to educate the public on jazz history.
From the blues genre evolved jazz music in New Orleans. Dunlap says jazz differs from blues in that it is more sacred, grounded in self expression. Jazz as a genre took more risks and explored compositions beyond blues music.
“Jazz and blues music grew from the same tree,” Dunlap says. “Although two branches grew out of it, they still have the same foundation.”
There are many venues in St. Louis to celebrate and enjoy these music genres and traditions. Jazz at the Bistro is a non-profit organization that hosts 300 performances a year in the 600-seat jazz club. Jazz at the Bistro seeks to promote jazz music to general audiences and focus on trying to connect jazz music to their everyday lives. Aside from performances, Jazz at the Bistro also hosts after school programs for high school seniors to teach them how to play jazz music. The jazz club features new performers every week. Other venues include BB Jazz Blues and Soups, a restaurant that plays live jazz music nightly, and Beale on Broadway — another bar and restaurant that plays live blues music seven nights a week. Beale on Broadway has an outdoor patio where guests can enjoy a fine evening with friends and family. Kim Massie, a well-known Midwestern blues performer, performs there every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. Additionally, The Dark Room, a wine bar that also hosts live music, is famous among St. Louis citizens. Dunlap adds that the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis is always a great place to enjoy live music.
Even with a surplus of venues to enjoy live music, Dunlap says he felt that St. Louis still hasn’t always been recognized as a prominent music city.
“The opening of the National Blues Museum in St. Louis is what really put us on the map in terms of the music scene,” Dunlap says.
The National Blues Museum, which opened in April 2016, is a premier establishment focused on educating people about blues music while also hosting performances. This museum gives a detailed history of the blues genre by using interactive and educational exhibits throughout the museum. External Affairs Director Sheri Nash says the National Blues Museum features live music every Saturday.
“Most people don’t know what to expect when they visit the museum, but with live music, people are really blown away by the museum,” Nash says.
With the National Blues Museum in St. Louis and the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, the twin cities of Highways 70 offer a nuanced look into the heritage of American music.
With a vibrant music scene in St. Louis, it is very easy to get involved. With the National Blues Museum and Jazz at the Bistro being non-profits, citizens can volunteer at these establishments. To Dunlap, the most important way to get involved is to be a patron of the city and partake in live music.
“Support those musicians at your local bars who perform live,” Dunlap says. “When people don’t go out and enjoy this music, that is when the music dies.”
With a friendly community and variety of ways to enjoy the city, look no further than St. Louis for your next outing with friends to enjoy the night. From bustling blues museums to quiet wine bars with soft jazz playing the background, there’s sights and sounds for every taste.
To learn more about the National Blues Museum, stay tuned for our Winter 2016 Issue of Detours Magazine!