When Mark DeNinno became the chef and owner of Chris’ Jazz Cafe two decades ago, he knew he wanted to put the music first.
The club and restaurant celebrates turning 30 this month by honoring the past, present and future with both music and food. Their lineup of acts in September includes musicians who have played at the club for years and one of their biggest acts to date. Philly’s own Grammy nominated jazz pianist Orrin Evans will perform with his quintet on Sept. 13 and 14 and legendary group The Hot Sardines will play two rare, intimate shows at the end of the month. The Cafe wouldn’t be the jazz destination it is today without DeNinno’s decision to knock down some walls.
Chris’ Jazz Cafe celebrates 30 years with legendary jazz shows and food specials
Back in the day, musicians stood in a corner to play shows in front of smaller audiences. After a conversation with his staff in April 2005, DeNinno decided that Chris’ Jazz Cafe would officially be a jazz club. But in order to transform the music experience and book bigger acts, they needed a stage.
“The weekend that we built our stage is a great memory,” says DeNinno. “I remember the first act playing on that stage and being so proud. Now that we’ve been in business for 30 years and doing 500 shows a year, we get national and international acts that want to play our club.”
In addition to the music lineup, DeNinno is commemorating the Cafe’s transformation over the years with “time capsule” dinner specials including Southern braised short ribs with Parisian gnocchi ($24) and a lamb Bolognese with pappardelle ($24). DeNinno is known for cooking musicians’ favorite meals, and there’s a reason for it.
“Our goal is to make the artists feel like they’re coming home,” he says. “We always say that we need to feed their souls so they can really play.”
Honoring the cafe’s musical legacy includes opening their doors to a couple of Philly buskers and celebrating fans. DeNinno has invited a couple of musicians who usually perform on sidewalks in Center City, to play lunchtime shows on Tuesdays and Wednesdays this month. One lucky jazz fan will win free entry to shows at the Cafe for an entire year through their “Golden Ticket” social media contest.
To see all show times and more information on the other anniversary celebrations, visit chrisjazzcafe.com.