The Best Addresses in Town

Columns | Jean-Pascal Vachon | October 2008

You’ve heard it before: "Vienna is the capital of music." I guess we can all agree that, music-wise, Vienna indeed offers quite a lot in comparison with a lot of cities, much more just than classical musical and operas. German magazine Jazzthetic has called Vienna "the number one European Jazz metropole", a proof of this city’s jazz scene vitality. This month, I’ll provide some pointers as to where jazzfans can alleviate their thirst for their favorite music.

Indisputably, the number one spot in Vienna is Porgy and Bess. Considered the best jazz club in Europe by many musicians and critics from around the world, the 250-seat club on Riemergasse in the 1st District has become an absolute must for the jazz fan, casual or fanatic. Porgy can be described with one word: Quality – in its programming, its setting, its service. It is obvious that Porgy and Bess is run by people who not only appreciate this music but also care about it and make sure it is treated with the respect it deserves. Oriented more toward post-1950s jazz, Porgy and Bess dedicates itself to what makes jazz and its derivatives contemporary, with a monthly who’s who of today’s jazz scene in perfect acoustic conditions.  A must.

Porgy & Bess, 1., Riemergasse 11

Tel. : (01) 512 88 11,


For more than 36 years, 6 days a week, Jazzland – Austria’s dean of jazz clubs – has presented top musicians in its 500-year-old arched cellar at the feet of the Ruprechtskirche near Schwedenplatz. The list of legends who have performed there over the years is both long and impressive: Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Art Farmer, Clark Terry, Tal Farlow... Stylistically more orthodox than the Porgy and Bess, Jazzland specializes in more traditional forms of jazz (say, pre-1960s) but has been known to occasionally explore more modern avenues. Admission is moderate (11 to 18 Euros, but no presales and no reservations) and one can also eat there. A very congenial place for fine jazz; but watch out: only a handful of seats offer an unobstructed view of the tiny stage.

Jazzland, 1., Franz-Josef Kai, 20

Tel.: (01) 533 25 75,


A relatively new venue has made a name for itself: the Sargfabrik (literally, "the coffin factory," after the building’s previous occupants!). Not restricted solely to jazz, the Sargfabrik opens its doors to new music, improvised or not, world and vocal. If you’re into ear-opening musical events, culture shocks and unbeaten paths, this intimate venue is for you. In the past, musicians like Uri Caine, David Krakauer, Don Byron, Arto Lindsay, Louis Sclavis and Michel Portal have all performed at the Sargfabrik. The perfect conditions offered to the spectators are also deserving of praise. For those with an ear of adventure …

Sargfabrik, Goldschlag 169, 1140 Vienna

Tel.: (01) 988 98 111, 


The inclusion of the Konzerthaus in my list of venues dedicated to jazz might come as a surprise. Let’s not forget that since the 1940s, the venerable building has welcomed, next to the biggest names in classical music, many jazz legends such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson to name a few (not to mention Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits and John Zorn).  For several seasons, it has offered good jazz series with big names from today’s scene. This season, either in the Großer Saal or in the Mozart Saal, musicians such as Brad Mehldau, Ralph Towner, Charles Lloyd, Richard Galliano and Bill Frisell will be among the guests. For those who prefer to listen to jazz in a totally smoke free environment in "classical" conditions.

Konzerthaus, 3., Lothringerstrasse 30

Tel.: (01) 242 002, 


Reigen also deserves a mention though one can’t qualify it as purely a jazz club either. Host to rock, world, and salsa as well, the occasional very good jazz concerts are well worth keeping an eye out for.

Reigen, 14., Hadikgasse 62

Tel.: (01) 89 40 094,


Finally, other venues present jazz performances from time to time: Miles Smiles (Langegasse 51, 1080 Vienna,, Blue Tomato (15., Wurmsergasse 21,, the WUK (9., Währingerstrasse 59,


Some may wonder why I haven’t mentioned Birdland, the club founded by the late Joe Zawinul in 2004. Currently closed, its future appears seriously compromised since Zawinul’s sudden death a year ago, and a final decision should be made by mid-October. But it seems that only a miracle will save the young club located at the Hilton Hotel, next to the Stadt Park.

For a complete listing of jazz-related events in Vienna, consult


Among this month’s "must see" concerts:

Pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio (Larry Grenadier on bass, and Jeff Ballard on drums) at the Konzerthaus on October 28. Often compared to Bill Evans, the still relatively young Mehldau is undoubtedly has a place amongst today’s great pianists, and his trio is certainly on par with Keith Jarrett’s. Check out his recordings on Nonesuch, especially those from the "Art of the Trio"-series.

One of today’s most original and inventive singers, Patricia Barber (also a pianist) and her quartet are at the Porgy and Bess on October 27. Her latest album, "The Cole Porter Mix" (Blue Note) will surely raise a few eyebrows!

Finally, tenor saxophone legend Benny Golson (the musician for whom Tom Hanks crosses the ocean in the movie "Terminal"-- that’s him!) at the Jazzland, from October 14 to 18.


Musicologist Jean-Pascal Vachon teaches at Webster University Vienna and gives lectures on the history of music at various venues around the city. In addition, he also contributes texts and works as a translator for the Swedish classical label, BIS.

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    the vienna review October 2008