Step back in time to the Roaring Twenties at Parker Jazz Club in downtown Austin. Situated underground like all the coolest clubs, Parker Jazz Club acts as an incubator for the music and the sensibility of another era. Set your sights on a whole new music experience, complemented by classic cocktails and a sultry aura.
Despite Austin’s outspoken love for live music, we are somewhat lacking in world-class, traditional jazz. Parker Jazz Club intends to change that. Jazz music evokes a host of strong feelings for many, calling to mind a different time and place. Walking down the staircase into the dark, elegant club, I felt as though I could be in Chicago, New York, or Paris in the ’20s or ’50s. By design, Parker Jazz Club stands apart from the typical downtown Austin bar.
Thank you to Parker Jazz Club for treating me to an evening of music and cocktails. All opinions are my own.
Parker Jazz Club Inspiration
Co-owners Eric Leonard and Kris Kimura are well-known fixtures in Austin’s restaurant and music scenes, respectively. Leonard said he and Kimura had been discussing the concept for Parker Jazz Club for nearly a decade. They finally put their plan into motion, secured the old Spaghetti Warehouse spot downtown, and got to work.
A peek into Leonard’s credentials reveals stints at the helm of beloved Austin eateries like Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and J. Black’s (recently closed). Leonard brought his eye for impeccable service, taste for well-made cocktails, and graciousness making guests feel at home to Parker Jazz Club.
This professional knows the value of outstanding service and is willing to put his money where his mouth is. When the club experienced unforeseen delays, it paid staff members for three months in order to maintain them until opening.
Leonard personally greets guests as they enter the club, making every patron feel welcomed and valued.
The other half of the equation, Kris Kimura, has played in and/or been the frontman for several jazz ensembles throughout the years. If you’ve heard jazz at a club or restaurant in Austin, odds are you’ve heard Kimura. He’s played with Grupo Fantasma and many others, including his own bands.
Kimura wears multiple hats at Parker Jazz Club as co-owner, music curator, and often band leader. The Wasabi Big Band is among the ones he leads, and it often plays at Parker Jazz Club.
Foot-tapping Beats All Night Long
A jazz bar, no matter how swanky, is only as good as the jazz it features. Parker Jazz Club brings a passionate heart and well-trained ear to the stage. Leonard noted that, while Austin loves the moniker, “Live Music Capital of the World,” our musicians struggle to make it in this town.
The stage itself is gorgeous, and the amount of work put in to maximize the acoustics is evident. When I went to the early show on Roaring ’20s Tuesday, a delightful band called the Ryan Davis Trio started the evening. I was immediately transported to the legendary Green Mill in Chicago because the music, vibe, and stage, complete with a grand piano, reminded me of such a fine jazz tradition.
Later, the Wasabi Big Band took the stage. I perked up immediately when I saw the horn section. I’m a sucker for a good horn section. The musicians started playing and it was nigh impossible to wipe the smile off my face. The group ran through a set of classic jazz songs, played with skill, aplomb, and sheer joy.
Kris Kimura came out after several songs, introducing himself and his band members, who each treated the audience to a brief solo. Kimura plays the saxophone and occasionally sings the old standards we know and love. The dynamic on stage changed when he took the stage, and everyone seemed to liven up even more.
At the end of the first set, Kimura’s chanteuse wife Jennifer Johnson joined the band on stage. Johnson belted out a few torch songs to wrap up the set, much to the audience’s delight. Fun fact: the club is named after Kimura and Johnson’s son, Parker.
Wet Your Whistle
Parker Jazz Club takes pride in its cocktails and extensive wine list. The wine list offers many choices to the casual drinker or wine snob, with bottles ranging in price from around $36 to roughly 10 times that price. And while each cocktail is named after a jazz song, album, or musician, these are more than mere novelty drinks. Parker’s skilled drink slingers make solid classic cocktails with high-end liquor, though some have a modern twist.
For example, The Sidewinder is made with muddled rosemary, lemon bitters, gin, and blue curaçao. The Yard Bird is a High West Double Rye Old Fashioned. It tastes the way a drink is supposed to taste when listening to damn good jazz. The Misterioso is made with Milagro silver tequila here, plus raspberry, hibiscus and ginger beer. Like a Moscow mule, but better. The one I didn’t try, but will return for, is On Green Dolphin Street, a Key lime martini.
Parker Jazz Clubs Eats
While music and booze are the main events at Parker Jazz Club, you won’t go hungry. For the peckish among us, a meat and cheese plate is available, plus a treat plate with almonds and chocolate-covered pretzels. For those with a sweeter palate, expect lovely desserts. I had the Hi-Top Mascarpone Cheesecake and the dessert of the day, a triple chocolate, send-you-straight-to-dessert-heaven treat. Both were delicious.
➡ Keep reading: Smooth Guide to Finding Blues and Jazz Music in Austin
“The Emotional Reaction Is All That Matters”
Yes, that is a John Coltrane quote. My emotional reaction to a night at Parker Jazz Club was, “Yes! I want more of this in my life.” You should go experience this place for yourself.
117 W. 4th St. – Website
@theAustinot wants to know:
What’s your favorite jazz-related memory?