Some places are ephemeral, some last for decades.
When the next club, if it even is a club, paints its name on the late, lamented Strange Matter space, it will be just the most recent layer of a lineage that stretches back through Nanci Raygun, 929 Café, Chronos Café, Twister's, Hubaba's, and the Back Door.
The Friday jazz jam at Emilio's has been going on for almost 30 years.
There is a lot of music in town, and a strong enough jazz scene that it's possible to see something nearly every night. While there have been notable losses over the years, the current set of regular improvisational music series is arguably as strong as it has ever been.
Sundays and Mondays at Cary Street Cafe and Answer Brew Pub
Cary Street has a stellar Sunday night lineup that is scheduled all the way until the fall. With its Deadhead graphics and neighborhood bar vibe, it's a more of a party venue than listening room. That said, curator Jeremy Simmons' great ears and boatload of musician contacts are laying the groundwork for a robust tradition.
Monday is a traditional off day for musicians. In the current absence of any regular big band gig to draw in players, the default hang is at the Answer Brew Pub. The house band here, Mekong Express, is more Paul McCartney meets Steely Dan in a Nashville roadhouse than a hardcore jazz band, but the adjunct Get Fresh Horns include some of the best players in town, and the scene grew out of a long-standing musicians' haunt.
Tuesdays at the Dark Room at the Hof
Tuesday's regular gig is in the Dark Room upstairs at the Hof. It comes by the name honestly as verified by the old camera bodies on shelves and the looming dinosaur carcass of an enlarger stashed in the hall. This intimate, 2,000-square-foot space is dramatically lit, with colorful stage lights, a few rows of folding chairs, high tops and comfy furniture around the perimeter, and a well-stocked adjoining 10-stool bar. Treat Yourself Tuesdays is curated by Peter Lablanc. Bonus: It goes on late enough that those coming from the Jazz Society's long-running second-Tuesday of the month series at Richmond Music Hall can attend.
Wednesdays at the Rabbit Hole downstairs at Vagabond
Talented pianist Macon Mann's totally misnamed Smooth Jazz series takes place at the Rabbit Hole downstairs at Vagabond. Like the Dark Room, it is primarily a listening space, with great acoustics and only one bad seat, at the end of the bar, behind a pillar. It regularly features some of the best players in the area. Occasionally the music spills back into Tuesday, as it does when the great Andrew Randazzo Big Band shows up, or when expat pianist Steve Kessler made his hotly anticipated swing through Richmond.
Thursdays at VMFA and Savory Grain
Thursdays start with the Jazz Society series at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It is the opposite of intimate, but in a good way. There are few more compelling settings in Richmond. Afterwards there is Coby Batty and the Rhythm Masters at Savory Grain, which has a better food and beer selection than the museum, but nowhere near the number of priceless cultural artifacts.
Fridays at Emilio's
Fridays are a bit of a wild card, but one constant is the long-running jam with Richmond treasure Doc Branch as host at Emilio's. It might be the longest-running, single-venue gig of its sort in the country. Generations of musicians have played there, and occasionally nationally known players have dropped by. The lead in is an early evening set reserved for Virginia Commonwealth University students and faculty, making for a potentially epic night of unpredictable virtuosity.
Saturdays at Barrel Thief and Café Caturra
For a Saturday night cooldown, there are the polished dinner series in near West End restaurants located just a few blocks apart. Bassist Jason Jenkins has been booking the Barrel Thief for the past few years, with a winning combination of great acoustic players and a huge selection of wine by the retail-priced bottle.
Café Caturra's evening series is anchored by guitarist Chris Whiteman, who brings in a rotating roster of guests. He's an excellent player and adept at carving out something close to a listening space within a socializing crowd out for a weekend dinner. In both cases, plan to stay until the end when the dining crowd thins out. The music swells to fill the void.