The Jazz Bucket List

Forty jazz-related things to do before you die (or Keith Jarrett kills you)

To commemorate the 40th Anniversary of this magazine, we decided to come up with a list of jazz experiences to have before you die. A veritable jazz bucket list, if you will. Our thanks to readers, Facebook fans and friends and Twitter followers for their input. Here’s our Top 40. OK, get going.

Club-hop through NYC, starting uptown and continuing downtown and into Brooklyn. One drink per stop

Put on a house concert featuring local jazz artists

Take a tour of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens

Check out the Monterey Jazz Festival and buy a vintage festival poster

Visit the graves of famous jazz musicians in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City. Among the jazz greats buried there are Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Greer, W.C. Handy, King Oliver, Milt Jackson and Illinois Jacquet

Watch Ken Burns’ JAZZ from start to finish and make a list of all the people you think should have been included

Listen to every Miles Davis CD in chronological order and dress accordingly for each period

Attend a jazz fantasy camp like Tritone or Gerald Veasley’s Bass Bootcamp

Hang “backstage” in the bowels of Fort Adams at the CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival

Visit the Village Vanguard and soak up the history from the bandstand and the walls

Listen and pay handsomely for a performance by a street musician playing jazz

Cough as quietly as possible during a Keith Jarrett concert, without getting lectured or

Sit at the Tony Bennett table at the Blue Note and order the shrimp cocktail

Contribute a review of a favorite recent jazz CD to the Community section of

Walk on hallowed ground at Congo Square in New Orleans

Listen to Wynton Marsalis jam in a hotel lobby

Memorize at least one solo from a famous jazz record and hum it for someone who might actually recognize it

Attempt to catch at least a bit of every single act playing the West Village’s Winter Jazzfest or Undead Jazzfest

Spend a Saturday and $50 hunting for jazz albums at thrift stores and yard sales

Visit the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers

See Sonny Rollins or Ornette Coleman perform anywhere, any time

Enjoy the summer moonlight behind the stage at Jazz à Juan in Juan-les-Pins

Visit Preservation Hall in New Orleans

Tour the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City

Hit up one or more of the premier summertime European festivals: Umbria Jazz in Perugia, Italy; Heineken Jazzaldia in San Sebastián, Spain…

Go to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and hear the rest of the Carnegie Hall concert of 1957 that yielded 2005’s Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note). The remaining performances, so far unissued, include Sonny Rollins, the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, Zoot Sims with Chet Baker, and Ray Charles playing jazz backed by Ed Blackwell

Listen to Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz religiously

Get your muck-proof white shrimper boots autographed by fans and artists at Jazz Fest in New Orleans

Go to Cuba to see Chucho Valdés perform with Irakere during the Havana International Jazz Festival

Buy the CD of a local jazz musician playing a gig where no one pays attention to the music, ever

Find a retired and unknown jazz musician living in your area and interview him or her for your local paper or a Web site

Wear your JazzTimes T-shirt and pace back and forth outside the offices of DownBeat in Elmhurst, Ill.

Sample the Big Easy barbecue and music of Kermit Ruffins with his Barbecue Swingers on a Thursday night at Vaughan’s in New Orleans

Experience A-list vocal jazz in concert: Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson or Kurt Elling should do it

Visit a local radio station and bring a gift for the likely underpaid and underappreciated jazz DJ

Take a picture of yourself standing on the stoop where the “A Great Day in Harlem” photo was shot

Travel to Cape Town, South Africa, for the annual jazz festival, and take a music tour through the townships

Take a son, daughter, niece or nephew to a children’s program at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Go on a jazz cruise and don’t gain 10 pounds

Record your memory of your first encounter with jazz for StoryCorps (, where it will be housed at the Smithsonian

How many have you done already? I’ve done exactly 27 of them, believe it or not, which either makes me feel very lucky or very old. I am also grateful that Keith Jarrett didn’t berate me for my respiratory distress. That’s one I’m not doing again.


  • Jul 20, 2010 at 02:57PM ackeb

    An interesting list. It was nice to be reminded of all the wonderful opportunities jazz offers. Over the past few years, I been fortunate to experience an "A-list vocal jazz concert" by each of the outstanding artist mentioned: Dianne, Cassandra and Kurt. Each was a memorable jazz experience as was the times hearing Mark Murphy and Sheila Jordan. This is a group who knows how its done.

  • Jul 20, 2010 at 04:56PM guitargarden

    An amusing, but typically elitist list. [New York-centrism is boring, and I have a serious jazz buddy who said sitting through a Sonny Rollins show was like extended root canal]. And, of course, you forgot all the great guitarists, as most jazz snobs do. #1 on my jazz bucket list is see Pat Martino, as many times as possible. But I've seen everyone from Stephane Grappelli to Betty Carter, so that's not bad for my own list. I'd suggest that everyone ignore this jazz bucket list and make their own.

  • Jul 21, 2010 at 06:33PM David Erato

    Does performing with Diane Schuur count for experiencing an "A-list vocal jazz concert"?
    I've done a few more and put them on my blog. Great idea, Lee.

  • Jul 21, 2010 at 06:33PM David Erato

    Does performing with Diane Schuur count for experiencing an "A-list vocal jazz concert"?
    I've done a few more and put them on my blog. Great idea, Lee.

  • Jul 21, 2010 at 11:10PM JohnJMcQ

    nice list. Unfortunately, most Manhattan jazz clubs have a TWO drink minimum, so "one drink per stop" isn't going to work at the Village Vanguard, Blue Note, Jazz Standard, Birdland etc. (unless you can deal with paying for two drinks but only drinking one.)

  • Oct 09, 2010 at 09:53AM Robert Puckett

    Very nice! I have done a few of these myself, but a lot I would love to do

  • Oct 10, 2010 at 07:46PM Lee Mergner

    Thanks, Robert. A lot of it was personal and some of it tongue-in-cheek. A list is just that. A list. But let us know what other things you think would be special to do, from your experience as a jazz fan.

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