5. RED CAT JAZZ CAFE Admittedly, Red Cat has its hits and misses, but for a jazz neophyte looking to make his or her debut into the world of Fitzgerald and Armstrong, this "cafe" is a good place to start. Its relatively new Franklin Street address places Red Cat at the very beginning of downtown, and the seductively curled red cat sign directs scat enthusiasts right to its front door, meaning you can't miss it.
Once inside, you'll find that Red Cat is open to more than just jazz. Nearly all musical genres are put into the daily rotation, some of them derivatives of the improvisational music. There's Reggae Fuse Tuesdays, Rewind Wednesdays (with a live R&B band), Zydeco Thursdays and an upcoming Mardi Gras-themed celebration of the new year. It's like music appreciation class, only a lot more fun.
711 Franklin, 713-226-7870, www.redcatjazzcafe.com
4. FEDORA LOUNGE Shh...
You wouldn't be able to tell from its nondescript strip-mall exterior, but brave your way past it and into The Fedora Lounge on any given weeknight, and you'll be privy to the sexiest of scenes: s darkened room, perfect for sneaking a quick glance (or grasp) at the sexy after-worker next to you; a quiet ambience, only magnified during the times when the jazz gets you going; friendly and knowledgeable bartenders who can pour up drink specials; and framed pictures of jazz legends dotting the walls.
The jazz they play isn't the standard Olive Garden-style Sinatra, either. You'll hear 1940s-era jazz and R&B, stuff so rare that you'll find yourself caught in a "who-sings-that-song" round of questioning with the staff all night, which is perfect for jazz purists looking to enhance their iTunes collection.
2726 Bissonnet, 832-581-3232, Facebook page
3. CAFE 4212 From quiet to loud: if you're looking for the complete opposite of The Fedora Lounge's dreamy atmosphere, you'll definitely find it here at Café 4212, where the jazz is loud and the place is almost always packed.
Loud, crowded jazz, you say? Why, yes we did, but it's okay! Café 4212 has the pleasure of hosting top jazz acts, including musicians from New Orleans.
4212 Almeda, 713-522-4212, www.cafe4212.com
2. SAMBUCA JAZZ CAFE Once upon a time, a certain Rocks Offer stopped by Sambuca for lunch on a hot summer day. In his (or her) haste to grab a quick bite to eat before returning to the midday grind, he or she remained unaware that the restaurant held a great jewel -- until two years later, when, stopping by Sambuca on a not-so-snowy evening (Hey, Robert Frost!) this writer discovered the restaurant's wealth of live jazz seven nights a week. Better late than never!
Throughout the month of December alone, Sambuca will host the likes of Tianna Hall, Norma Zenteno, The McClanahans, Jones Band, Adam Estes, Yvonne Washington and more. Additionally, Sambuca's booths are designed as private little neck-nuzzling nooks, so while you're enjoying live jazz acts, you can indulge your romantic side. If you really want to sweep your lover off his or her feet, Sambuca also has a dance floor where you can cut a rug.
909 Texas, 713-224-5299, www.sambucarestaurant.com
1. CEZANNE JAZZ CLUB Best of Houston Winner, 2012: With its ivy-covered walls, Cezanne seems more suited to some leafy university town in the Northeast than to the sprawling, swampy Bayou City. But those willing to seek out its cozy quarters above the Black Labrador Pub near Richmond and Montrose will find a cozy spot for a date night, a superb listening room to appreciate the occult art of acoustic jazz -- somewhat underground these days, but very much alive -- or both.
For more than 20 years, Cezanne has hosted top regional names and occasional national ringers (Joshua Redman, Randy Brecker) for two sets a night with excellent acoustics and a minimum of electricity and conversation. It's also an important workshop for local jazz players such as Pamela York, Sebastian Whittaker, Woody Witt, manager Mike Wheeler and alumni of the nationally renowned HSPVA jazz program just blocks away. Open Friday and Saturday only; limited bites are available from the Black Lab menu.
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4100 Montrose Blvd., 713-522-9621, www.cezannejazz.com