Lyon has more than a dozen jazz clubs, some with long and storied histories.
I’m a sucker for live music. But finding live music venues in foreign countries, particularly when I don’t speak the language, can be tricky. How exciting it was to find that Hot Club De Lyon was literally next door to the apartment building where we were staying.
The club isn’t much from the outside. One could easily walk by the single-width store front and not even notice it. And from the street there is no way to tell what it’s like inside. Was it a concert setting with stadium seating or more of bar scene? Would it be awkward if we arrived partway through the first set?
Although we walked by the club several times a day, we couldn’t check it out or even ask any questions. It’s only open in the evening. After some deliberation, we decided to have dinner out, take our chances, and risk arriving a bit late.
As most things do when you just relax, it all worked out marvelously.
We arrived at Hot Club de Lyon about 30 minutes after the publicized start time. We entered the building through the thickly painted red doors and were perplexed. This isn’t a club, and we don’t hear any music. In fact, it was nearly silent. Do we have the wrong date? Are we at the right place?
We continued to walk to the back of the building and off to the right saw a door. A dark and narrow stairwell lead to the basement. We descended and, eventually, heard soft, muffled music.
At the bottom of the stairs, another door. This one sound-proofed. It opened onto a long hall lined with framed headshots, like the walls of Sardi’s. But instead of famous actors, the photos were of Jazz greats: Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Dizzi Gillespie, Chet Baker, and others.
The hallway lead to a small bar area, which was empty save for the bartender. We ordered two tickets, a couple beers, and peeked through the narrow doorway to see the Red Hill Quintet, a five-piece group playing jazz of the ’50s and ’60s.
The stage was raised and framed by a great stone arch. The entire room, the stage, the seating area, and even the bar, are inside a very old wine cellar. The arched ceiling and low walls all made with the same ancient brick-shaped stones.
I estimate that the venue holds 120 people max. Tonight there were three long rows of bleacher seats and about five rows of ten chairs, but browsing Google images I can see that the set up changes frequently. While the room for this show was only half full, the crowd was enthusiastic, clearly enjoying themselves. Everyone staying until the very end.
Memories are the souvenirs of traveling, and this is the kind of place one dreams about finding. My favorite quote from TripAdvisor says, “Great musicians have made the reputation of this club… and many others rocked the roof of this magnificent vault.”