C-U: A waypoint for musicians, crossroads of jazz


You’ll have no shortage of things to do when you get to campus this fall — night life on this campus is lively, to put it mildly.

You’ll have barn dances, frat parties, bar crawls, Illini Union Board events, club activities, concerts and any number of other opportunities to get you out of your dorm room. But there’s something that’s often overlooked by University students — live jazz. I know this because when I sit down at a jazz venue on a date or with some friends, the average age of the room is probably 60. 

Jazz is neat. Sometimes it’s intimate, most of the time it’s lively. It’s not like the music at a club on Green Street. Here at a jazz venue, you don’t dance — you sit, tap your foot and enjoy a good conversation and awesome local talent.

There’s this Facebook page called “Champaign-Urbana Jazz.” Go ahead and like it. The page editor, Jeff Helgesen, posts live jazz events frequently, usually about three times a week.

He said one of the biggest influences on the jazz scene in C-U is the University’s jazz program, which in the ‘60s was one of the dominant jazz programs in the U.S.

“There are a ton of very talented musicians here in town, especially in the graduate program, who wouldn’t otherwise be based here,” he said.

The most common location for the bands is this bar in downtown Urbana called the Iron Post, located at 120 S. Race St.

It’s not particularly known for its food, but its music and atmosphere are always well worth the trip.

The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts often has both local and international talent come in to play — sometimes it’s at an Uncorked session in the lobby of the building, other times it’s an actual performance in one of the show rooms. The difference is the first is free, but the latter costs $10 for students. Krannert has a had a lot of famous talent come through to play like Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock and Duke Ellington.

If you think about it geographically, it makes sense that these all-stars in the Jazz arena would stop by C-U — we’re located in the middle of three metropolitan areas: Indianapolis, St. Louis and Chicago.

“It was a waypoint for groups traveling to and from larger metro areas,” Helgesen said.

You’ll be living in the crossroads of jazz when you come to campus this fall — please don’t spend all your time here waiting in line at one of the clubs on Green Street. Come by the Iron Post, hang out with some older folks — it’s fun. Hope to see you around soon.

Austin is a junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @austinkeating3.