A jazz spot whose roots date back to 1926, Bohemian Caverns is the city’s oldest jazz club and a must-hear, must-see jazz destination. It’s located on Washington’s legendary U Street Corridor, for many decades a Mecca of hip and cool culture. Some called the neighborhood Washington’s Harlem. Bohemian Caverns was once literally the in place for “The In Crowd.” Here is where pianist Ramsey Lewis’ laid down his Grammy-winning single and the 1966 album The In Crowd, Live at the Bohemian Caverns.
The big news is - the legends are back and bringing them is what motivated the trio of young business owners who took over several years ago. “When we took over the Caverns, the lineup rarely included national names,” says managing partner Omrao Brown. “It’s been a long road. We have recently moved to a place where we regularly present some of the biggest names in jazz including new additions to the scene and some of the living legends of our time.”
Among them is renowned bassist Ron Carter, a former member of the awe-inspiring Miles Davis Quintet and perhaps the most-recorded bass player in history. Carter drops in every six months to mesmerize a multi-generational audience in the jam-packed listening room.
Among the top national and regional artists to appear is Philadelphia-based trumpeter Terell Stafford. In mid-career, he is already hailed as one of the great players of our time. He’s slated for May 14 and 15. Stafford heads jazz studies at Rutgers and performs with the likes of Benny Golson, the Grammy Award-winning Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Clayton Brothers.
Vocal jazz legend “Little” Jimmy Scott got his stage name from the immortal Lionel Hampton. Scott appears May 21 and 22. Born in Ohio in 1925, he was one of 10 children who often sang in church accompanied by their mother on piano. Billie Holiday singled him out as her favorite singer. Scott embraced R&B, pop and jazz in his long career, which included recordings on the Roost, Coral, Brunswick and Savoy labels.
On June 4 and 5, the club hosts rising-star pianist Marc Cary and his Focus Trio, described by Downbeat as one of the most “multi-dimensional keyboard players on the scene today.” The Caverns makes room for such groundbreaking players. After all, they will become tomorrow’s legends!
The club recently celebrated the debut of the Bohemian Caverns Orchestra, whose big band swing sound will be featured every Monday night. They’ve also hosted Latin Grammy Award-winning band Afro Bop Alliance and master teaching artist and saxophonist Jeff Antoniuk, whose jazz workshops and related concerts further the knowledge of semi-pro musicians and jazz fans.
Exploring U Street and the surrounding neighborhood could become a lengthy venture. It is home to such popular entertainment destinations as the Lincoln and Howard Theatres, Twins Jazz, 9:30 Club and HR57. Neglected for a time, the jazz music Mecca was proclaimed by The New York Times in 2006 as “vibrant again and the newest and hottest place in town for getting out on weekends after dark.”
Bohemian Caverns was originally located under a drug store at 11th and U Streets and became famous for its floor and variety shows. Washington’s elite came in droves, dressed to the nines, to be entertained by the likes of Washington’s native-son Duke Ellington and Baltimore-nurtured Cab Calloway. Other immortal artists who helped build the club’s legacy included Billy Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus.
In the 1950’s, Club Caverns became known as Crystal Caverns. It was re-named Bohemian Caverns and reached its zenith in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Today, the club swings while evoking its rich past with textured walls and ceilings that recall the former stalactite and stalagmite accents. The bar features a rough-cut glazed pure marble top, over which customers’ favorite spirits are served. The popular full dinner menu features a contemporary American cuisine of poultry, beef and seafood dishes.