The Buenos Aires Jazz Scene



The History of Jazz in Argentina

In the booming Argentina of the 1920s, the hip place to look to for ideas if you were an artist or intellectual was mother Europe. Jazz had just become all the rage over there, and hence arrived in Argentina not via the United States, but rather from the likes of Paris, London and Berlin. As the ‘new’ music began to take off in Buenos Aires in the ‘30s, it met with some resistance from certain quarters who viewed it as too foreign, and a threat to traditional types of music such as folklore and tango. Ironically it was due to tango orchestras embracing the genre that it really took hold. With the passage of time, jazz gradually cut ties with tango, blooming into a popular variety of music in its own right.

The entrancing swing guitarist Oscar Alemán became the first Argentinian to be internationally recognised as a jazz icon, wowing audiences in pre-WWII Paris before returning home to enjoy a long and illustrious career in Buenos Aires. In the late 1950s, pianist and composer Lalo Schifrin so impressed a touring Dizzy Gillespie that the legendary American trumpeter would later invite him to join his quintet and compose music for him. Another Argentinian, Leandro Barbieri would make his name in Rome, becoming one of the pioneers of free jazz in the ‘70s.

Like many forms of art and expression, jazz in Argentina suffered under the military dictatorship of the 1970s. As the leaders considered it an imported form of music, it was banned for several years, resulting in an exodus of talent from the country. It was not until the early 2000s that the genre was able to re-establish its former vibrancy, as new generations of artists and audiences injected new life into the Argentinian jazz scene.

These days, there are an abundance of options for jazz lovers to attend live performances in Buenos Aires. Here are some of the stand outs. Remember to check the respective websites for performance dates and times.


The best known jazz club in Buenos Aires for a reason, Thelonious is one of those locales that makes you feel a few degrees cooler as soon as you walk through the door (and not because the air con is up too high). The owners Lucas and Ezequiel Cutaia hit the right notes in their attempt to emulate New York-style bars; the ambiance perfectly blends gloominess and glamour and the artists selected to perform are generally fresh and edgy, without being too raw. The space is actually not ideal for a live music venue, as it is long and narrow, and a 13-metre bar takes up a hefty chunk of the floor area, however the designers have done a decent job of working around the restrictions. It is best to get there early, though, as when the house is packed there are limited seats with a good view of the stage. Food is available, though the focus is definitely on drinks. Theloniuous’ bartenders, aside from looking appropriately beatnik, are masters of the cocktail arts. Order any of the martini varieties on the menu and sit back and enjoy the show.
Address: Salguero 1884 (Palermo)
Telephone: (+54) 11 4829 1562


When you first arrive at this venue on Callao street, you may think you have walked into a CD store. Well, you will have walked into a CD store, but head out the back (don’t forget to pay the nice man first) and you will find another of Buenos Aires’ top jazz clubs, Notorious. Attracting a constant stream of seriously good musicians, Notorious is the place to go to hear the very best of the local scene. This classy venue features a wide stage overlooking a seated dining area. Ideal for a date or a pleasant evening with a group of friends, the performers know how to keep the dinner crowd entertained by interlacing witty banter with the smooth jazz that everyone has come to hear. Booking in advance is recommended, as seating is limited, and certain tables have a better view of the action than others. If you would rather be snapping your fingers than holding a fork, dining is not compulsory – though we would recommend a nice bottle of wine to pair with the music.
Address: Callao 996 (Recoleta)
Telephone: (+54) 11 4813 6888


With a similarly elegant feel to Notorious, but on a larger scale (capacity 200), Boris is another focal point of the Buenos Aires jazz scene. It was purpose-built for live music, which means great acoustics and good views all round, making it an attractive option for both audiences and artists. Due to the dimensions of the place, this is your best bet if you want to catch some big band ensemble performances. Food and drink menus are extensive, and a little expensive, and the crowd is generally swanky. The moody blue and black décor adds to the tres tres chic vibe. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the door, or online here.
Address: Gorriti 5568 (Palermo)
Telephone: (+54) 11 4777 0012

Buenos Aires Jazz Festival

Roxana Amed Quinteto
Roxana Amed Quinteto at Centro Cultural Recoleta in 2011; photo courtesy of BA Jazz Festival.

Whether you are a casual enthusiast or serious connoisseur, the Buenos Aires Jazz Festival is a great event to get your teeth into. It first kicked off in 2002 and has grown every year since. Last year’s edition attracted an estimated 50,000 spectators in total and 2012 is likely to be even bigger. From the 21st to the 26th of November over 200 local artists and 40 international guests will play concerts all over the city, in the well-known spots like those listed above, as well as smaller hole-in-the-wall spaces and grand venues like the Teatro Coliseo. A dynamic and creative atmosphere abounds as top Argentinian musicians rub shoulders with some of the biggest names from North American and European jazz. Aside from a plethora of live music options, there will also be jazz-themed photo exhibitions, films and open press conferences for the public to enjoy. Many events are free or very reasonably priced. Keep an eye on the official website for gig announcements, as tickets to some concerts are snapped up very quickly.

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Posted in: The Real Argentina Blog, The Real Argentina: Culture
Posted on: September 18, 2012
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