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Where to find jazz in Boston? You’d be surprised.

Scott Haas
Where to find jazz in Boston? You’d be surprised.
Saxophonist Zishi Lin with Sumiao Hunan Kitchen co-owner, Sumiao Chen. PHOTO: SCOTT HAAS

Jazz performers are appearing at unexpected venues in the Boston area. From a Chinese restaurant to a wine bar to a hole-in-the-wall, the music, depending on where you go, may be accompanied by good food, small settings, and lively crowds.

At Sumiao Hunan Kitchen (SHK) in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, live music is fundamental to the experience. 

“We want to be a music destination,” Sumiao Chen, the restaurant’s co-owner, told the Banner. “Food is a bridge to create a more multicultural platform. We want people to come here and experience tastes, feelings, aromas — through a marriage of music and food.”

Chen and her husband Shao Zhu, both physicians, run SHK. They met in medical school. 

Nowadays, Dr. Zhu, who trained in psychiatry at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, balances his work in the economics of global health with the demands of the restaurant. Dr. Chen does research for Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical firm that has its world headquarters in Kendall Square, between her managerial chores at SHK.

On May 3, Quarter Cheese Trio, led by Berklee College of Music student Zishi Lin on sax, will perform at the restaurant. 

“I never heard about jazz in China,” Lin told the Banner. “I went to Malaysia for university in order to study environmental science. That was the first time I heard jazz, and I thought, ‘There is beauty in this kind of music!’”

Performing in Lin’s trio are Jihyung Hong on drums and Jongbin Song on electric bass.

“I ended up with the saxophone because my mom heard a tune by Kenny G,” Lin said with a laugh. “What our trio plays at the restaurant are our own compositions, arrangements of Chinese pop songs, and jazz standards. We swing to the vibe!”

SHK will be hosting other jazz acts this month, including Receita de Samba, featuring Brazilian jazz, on May 16 and 30.  May 17 and 30 bring So Distinct Music with jazz singing and piano.

What could be better than live jazz with a side of stir-fried okra in oyster sauce, crispy duck, spicy twin lobsters, and scallion-flavored noodles?

“Boston audiences understand what we’re doing,” said Lin. “We get requests to play tunes from big band to ‘The Girl from Ipanema.’ The support is great!”

Across the river on Beverly Street near TD Garden, City Winery combines great music with a terrific selection of wines and food. This national franchise was started by Michael Dorf, founder of New York City’s Knitting Factory, and its Boston outpost is bringing top jazz acts to town.

Ranky Tanky, out of Charlestown, South Carolina, is showing up on May 5. The unique, spiritual power of this group is not to be missed. Led by Quentin E. Baxter on drums, Kevin Hamilton on bass, Quiana Parker on vocals, Clay Ross on guitar and vocals, and Charlton Singleton on trumpet and vocals, the group takes West African-influenced Gullah music, from the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, and transforms it through jazz arrangements. 

And if you’re around in June, try to catch jazz great Al Di Meola, who will be playing guitar at City Winery for one night only: June 16. 

In tiny Inman Square in Cambridge, you can go to The Lilypad, a small venue and creative center where talent emerges, is refined, or plays to fans who’ve known the artists for many years. More than 50 shows take place each month in this hot spot.

In May, The Lilypad hosts an array of local talent, including the Jerry Bergonzi Quartet and The Fringe (May 6, 13, 20, 27), Matthew Shipp and Michael Bisio (May 17), and Christian Artmann with the Laszlo Gardony Duo (May 26).

On the web

Sumiao Hunan Kitchen: www.sumiaohunan.com

City Winery: www.citywinery.com/boston

The Lilypad: www.lilypadinman.com

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