Jazz may have found its roots in New Orleans in the 1900s, but it didn't take long for the crème de la crème (of the music world) to pave a way for it in New York. It started there during the Roaring Twenties, but since then, the Big Apple has become (and still is) jazz central of the world.
Home to classy clubs and legendary lounges that have borne witness to jazz giants like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker during their heyday, New York takes the biscuit if you're up for a night of foot-tapping tunes. We've compiled the ultimate jazz guide you'd best stick to if you want to take a journey back in time and get lost in the music. Here are the top ten best jazz venues to visit in New York City, and which offer performances on a regular basis.
10 The Stone
The location: The New Glass Box Theatre, at 55 W. 13th St.
Formerly located on Avenue C in the East Village, this venue retains the former locale’s barebone sensibility – no frills, just jazz. That means no drinks and no dancing.
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The scene is for hard-core jazz lovers. If you want to see the cutting-edge of the genre, this is the place. It hosts largely experimental music and is considered the main hub of the avant-garde jazz scene. What's not to miss: Sometimes they play on trash can lids as drums.
The original Birdland, which was located at 1678 Broadway, just north of West 52nd Street in Manhattan, closed down when the rent went up. After moving several more times, it’s now located at 315 West 44th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenues.
The venue comprises of a rambling interior, a simple stage (with classic red environs) and a bar that serves up delicious Cajun-influenced food. It’s the beating heart of Midtown’s jazz revival – think bright neon lights and big-name acts. Don’t miss the house band, the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, who play every Sunday.
8 The Blue Note
The location: 131 West 3rd Street in Greenwich Village
Think intimate tables in a moody low-lit space and you've got yourself the Blue Note. In the heart of the Village by Washington Square park, this haunt considers itself the center of the world’s jazz scene – and most agree. While this joint is a reliable place to catch staid pros, such as Ron Carter, it’s also home to some hip up-and-coming acts, such as Brooklyn-based Phony PPL. Plus, if you're into brunch, check out the Sunday options for a boozy bargain.
7 Minton's Playhouse
The location: 206 W 118th Street
The venue is located on the first floor of the Cecil Hotel, a registered landmark that's on the fancy tablecloth end of the spectrum. Considered the birthplace of bebop, Minton's Playhouse was where the likes of Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie changed everything about jazz music in the middle of the 20th century. The walls practically ooze jazz history.
If you work up an appetite, know this: Next door, chef Joseph ‘JJ’ Johnson whips up modern Afro-Asian-American cuisine at the sister restaurant - it's likely to fill every craving you ever had at a jazz performance.
6 Village Vanguard
The location: 178 7th Avenue South
This venue combines casual booths with old New York charm. It's a good place to drink, but they don’t serve food. Originally the best destination to see beat poetry and folk music, the vibe here turned towards jazz in 1957 – and hasn’t looked back – though it still retains an offbeat, earthy sensibility. It's the spot to knock back a few and soak up the tunes.
Don’t miss out on the weekly regulars: You can listen to the hopping tunes produced by the 16-piece Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, which have played every Monday night for more than 50 years - a great way to beat the Monday blues.
5 Smoke Jazz & Supper Club
The location: 2751 Broadway, between 105th and 106th street
There are places that fit the bill for jazz and places that don't. We'll leave this one for you to decide. The interior of this venue is sort of shabby genteel – with overstuffed sofas and low-key chandeliers – and feels like the living room of an eccentric millionaire.
The ensembles that play here span genres and levels of notoriety, from informal gigs in the garden to legends such as Cedar Walton and George Coleman. Don’t miss out on the performances on Wednesday nights they host some of the best funk music anywhere in Manhattan.
4 The Jazz Standard
The location: 116 E 27th
Downstairs from Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke barbecue joint, there’s a dank-yet-cozy basement where you can nosh on pulled pork while listening to hard-hitting jazz numbers.
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If you've got the blues, try the Southern cuisine. It's whipped up by chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois, adds a whiff of Dixie hospitality to the altogether laid-back atmosphere here. Big John Patton, the soul jazz organist, plays here often. Check out Mingus Big Band on Mondays for brass that rips hard and loud.
3 Bill’s Place
The location: 148 W 133rd St
Located in a Harlem brownstone, this basement speakeasy – considered the last of its kind – is BYOB and completely casual. It's a venue that lives and breathes jazz.
This spot is a throwback to the heydey of unofficial jazz spots in the area, it's the sort where the likes of Billie Holiday cut their teeth.
Friday and Saturday nights are the only times to go. Don’t forget to bring your own drinks (and whatever else you desire to get down to jazz music, cough cough). Don't miss this one out, it's an experience to remember.
2 Nublu Classic
The location: 62 Avenue C
This hip watering hole is essentially hidden from normal folks. There's no sign out front, but it’s marked by a single blue light – so keep your eye out. Owner Ilhan Ersahin’s ensemble, Wax Poetic, sets the tone here: offbeat and colorful. The atmosphere is cool, but not pretentious, and even has its own record label, which nurtures some of the City’s cutting-edge jazz artists.
The best time to go is during the summer, when you can enjoy the back garden, is the best time to swing by this joint. It's better than Central Park, we promise.
The location: 183 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village,
The decor here is spartan and retro and the basement itself is – you guessed it – quite small. But if you want to hear great music by performers you’ve never heard of, there’s nowhere better in New York City – though some more prominent musicians, such as pianist Bruce Barth and drummer Jimmy Cobb, have been known to drop by unannounced. Raw talent and enormous potential combined mean you'll probably hear the legends of tomorrow before their heyday.
Since you have to buy a drink here anyway (one-drink minimum), you may as well get a double – a little birdy tells us they make them even stronger than you ask for.