The Jazz at the Bistro series wrapped up its season in May, and the Webster University jazz concerts ended earlier this week. So with those regular events shut down for the summer, what's a local jazz fan to do after memorizing the Miles exhibit at the Missouri History Museum? One concert series has stepped into the hot-weather void, attracting serious jazzheads and casual music fans alike over the past few years. It's the Whitaker Jazz Festival, hosted by the Missouri Botanical Garden, where, for the next six Wednesdays, you can sample from a sonic smorgasbord of jazz-related genres, ranging from Dixieland to bop.The series, which kicks off this week with an appearance by the River City Ramblers, takes place every Wednesday night through July 11. As usual, there's a strong focus on local talent. On June 13, Chad Evans heads up the Acoustic Ideas. Evans -- as other local musicians such as John Norment and Russell Gunn have done in the past -- has been working the cruise-ship circuit, so he'll no doubt be relieved to be playing his sax on terra firma. Following him on June 20 is keyboardist/vocalist Johnny O'Neal, former sideman to Milt Jackson and Clark Terry and member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. The classic sounds of Quartette Très Bien are featured on June 27, Swing Set brings its unique take on the classic jazz sounds of the 1930s and '40s to the Garden on the Fourth of July, and the series concludes on July 11 with local diva Mae Wheeler, who'll celebrate her 50th anniversary as a performer.
All the concerts are free, and the music begins around 7:30 p.m. Bring a blanket and a picnic dinner, but leave the glass containers and the booze at home (not to worry -- you can buy some there). But do try to get there early: The combination of good jazz, balmy temperatures and lush green expanses makes the Whitaker Jazz Festival more popular every year.