The Miami Jazz Jam at Churchill's: Still the best show in town.

Churchill’s (5501 NE Second Avenue, Miami; 305-757-1807) Monday night Jazz Jam, winner of our 2007 Best of Miami award, is not a well-kept secret. It’s more like an institution. But a reminder is still in order: if you haven’t gone, you’re missing some of the best regularly-scheduled live music in Miami.

The first time I went, the band was made up of white-haired old white men, guys that looked like they retired here. They played upbeat, trumpet-heavy jazz, like what you might expect from an excellent wedding band.

Last night, Churchill’s had booked roughly the opposite: a crew of men in their 20s, blasting long, meandering sets packed with showy solos. Anchoring the group was a drummer who played with something like a palsied flair, skipping with a tightly-controlled but rapid-fire swinging of the sticks from drums to cymbals as his contorted face stared straight into the crowd.

And on Monday’s, the improvisation doesn’t stop at the notes -- it goes for the performers too. Roving musicians watching the show are often pulled in for a couple of sets, which is how, last night, we got bonus performances from a trumpeter and a big, linebacker-esque trombonist who stole the show.

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And, as is always the case at Churchill’s, the eclectic people-watching is unmatched. On always-crowded Mondays, you get ultra-hipsters, jazz nerds, guys just there to play pool, underaged kids and -- the essential sign of a good jazz show anywhere -- hoardes of old men. The between sets DJ this week was a white-bearded prospector –looking dude in overalls who at one point played a record of animal sounds interspersed with opera music.

With the jazz scene currently dominated by either $8 martinis or empty seats, it’s refreshing to have a place where, at least on one night a week, the genre is still hip.

-- Gus Garcia-Roberts

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