New York, New York - the cultural capital of the world, this American city has always been right at the forefront of the music industry. Though jazz, as we know it today, originated in New Orleans, all the major jazz musicians back in the day were flocking to New York City, drawn by the bustling cultural scene and the rapid pace of development.
The Roaring Twenties, a decade also known as the Jazz Age, was a time of unrivaled prosperity for New York City, especially when it came to culture. Fashions were changing, the automobile industry was bustling, skyscrapers were rising, and clubs were popping up everywhere.
It was a time of opulent parties fueled by lavish jazz bands, in crowded clubs clouded with cigar smoke, where New Yorkers would dance the night away and then do it all over again the next day. Iconic names like Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, or Louis Armstrong were common fixtures on the NYC jazz scene, and locations like The Cotton Club, Onyx, or Minton’s Playhouse were packed on a nightly basis.
Some of the clubs that were popular back in the day are still active today, obviously with an upgraded look and a smoke-free ambiance. Jazz clubs have continued to thrive in New York City even after the Roaring Twenties came to an end, and nowadays there are a plethora of must-see locations to choose from. It can be hard, especially if you’re only visiting, to pick just one jazz club to go to, so we’re making it a bit easier for you. We’ve come up with a list of the best jazz clubs currently open in New York City; you are guaranteed to have an incredible time at either of these locations, so don’t worry about making a wrong choice. Check them out below, and all that jazz:
The original Birdland opened in December 1949 at 1678 Broadway, close to Manhattan’s 52nd Street, which was the jazz epicenter of the city back in the day. The club closed in the 1960s due to rising rents but reopened in 1986 at 315 West 44th Street in the Theatre District.
Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker once called his namesake club ‘the Jazz Corner of the World,’ and the venue is a must-see, must-visit, must-listen for any music fan. Over the years, Birdland’s stage hosted legendary musicians like Count Basie, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis, and celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, and Sammy Davis Jr. frequently attended shows here.
Nowadays, the club boasts an award-winning menu featuring American cuisine with a Cajun flair and hosts popular events like the Umbria Jazz Festival and the Annual Django Reinhardt NY Festival.
The iconic Blue Note Jazz Club first opened in the fall of 1981 at 131 West 3rd Street in Greenwich Village. Club owner and founder Danny Bensusan managed to land performers like Dizzy Gillespie, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, and Oscar Peterson, and he booked Ray Charles for a full week every year. In 2001, the club’s very own live record label, Half Note Records, was founded, and many influential artists have recorded and launched albums at the Blue Note.
The club maintains its reputation to this day and is one of the most prestigious jazz venues in New York City and the world. The Blue Note offers live music every night at 8 pm and 10:30 pm; it also hosts a Late Night Groove Series at 12:30 am every Friday and Saturday, showcasing up-and-coming musicians in NYC. The club’s iconic status has, over the years, spread across the world, and there are currently Blue Note locations in Milan, Tokyo, São Paulo, Beijing, Shanghai, Hawaii, Rio, Napa, and Nagoya, Japan.
Located at 10 Columbus Circle at Broadway and 60th Street, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola was named after legendary jazz figure John Birks ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie. The club opened in 2004 as part of Jazz at Lincoln Center and is one of the three venues at the Frederick P. Rose Hall, alongside Rose Theater and The Appel Room.
Unlike many other jazz venues, which are located either on the ground level or underground, Dizzy’s Club is situated five stories above Columbus Circle, offering exquisite views of Central Park. It boasts an intimate and elegant vibe and offers live music seven nights a week. Performances start at 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm each night, and Late Night Sessions take place Tuesday-Saturday at 11:15 pm.
The full-service menu is provided by Great Performances, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s exclusive caterer, in collaboration with Spoonbread Inc., New York’s largest African-American-owned, full-service caterer. The club can also be rented out during the daytime, from 8 am to 3 pm.
The history of The Iridium begins in 1994 when the club first opened at its original 63rd Street and 8th Avenue location. It was founded by Ron Sturm, who grew to love jazz while studying at Boston University. The club underwent three separate renovations, and in 2001 it moved to its current location at 1650 Broadway on 51st Street.
The Iridium used to have a special relationship with the late guitar legend, Les Paul. The iconic musician performed here every Monday from April 1995 up until his death in 2009. Various jazz figures have recorded live albums at Iridium, including Kenny Garrett, Benny Carter, Clark Terry, Sweets Edison, and The Jazz Messengers. Nowadays, the club hosts weekly performances by jazz pianist John Colianni, and you can also enjoy Cuban jazz nights twice a month.
The Smalls Jazz Club first opened its doors to guests in 1994 at 183 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village. Over the years, it’s become a hotbed for up-and-coming musicians and one of the best places to see rising jazz talents in the city. Its underground location that accommodates up to 60 people serves to create an intimate atmosphere that is all about the music.
The club went through a difficult period following the attacks on 9/11, and in 2003 it closed due to declining attendance, rising rents, and the lack of a liquor license. However, the club was renovated and reopened in 2006, with improved aesthetics and sound quality, and the club now records every show; you can replay performances on the club’s website.
Over the years, Smalls hosted performances by a myriad of rising artists, including Peter Bernstein, Jon Davis, Ray Gallon, Norah Jones, Joe Magnarelli, Brad Mehldau, Jeremy Pelt, and Richie Vitale. In 2014, Smalls owners Mitchell Borden and Spike Wilner opened their second club, Mezzrow, right across the street, at the intersection of West 10th Street and 7th Avenue.
Smoke Jazz & Supper Club
Paul Stache and Frank Christopher opened the Smoke Jazz & Supper Club back in April 1999, at 2751 Broadway on the Upper West Side. The location previously housed Augie’s Jazz Bar, which was active between 1976 and 1998, and the founders of Smoke were careful to preserve the vibe of the old jazz club. Smoke is decorated with velvet banquets, antique chandeliers, candlelit tables, and a full-length bar, and can accommodate just over 50 people. Over the years, names like George Coleman, Brad Mehldau, Wynton Marsalis, Harold Mabern, and Ron Carter have graced the stage at Smoke.
The club was renovated and now features state-of-the-art acoustics, and was named ‘Best New Jazz Club’ in 2000 by New York Magazine. Guests can also enjoy soulful American cuisine, courtesy of Patricia Williams, a former ballet dancer, and acclaimed chef who has been with Smoke since 2009.
The Stone music club first took shape in 2005, when American musician John Zorn founded it. The not-for-profit club, which was named after the late Irving Stone, who was an avid concert-goer, was initially located on the northwest corner of Avenue C and 2nd Street. In February 2018, the club moved to a new location, within The New Glass Box Theatre, at 55 West 13th Street in Greenwich Village.
The Stone is unique in that it does not serve food or beverages, nor does it allow dancing. The decor is also neutral and minimalist, which is intentional, meant to keep the audience focused on the music. Indeed, music lies at the heart of the club, which aims to showcase aspiring, rising talents in different music genres, mostly experimental and avant-garde. The club has live music five nights a week, with each week serving as a residency for a chosen artist - a long-time policy of the club.
The Village Vanguard is one of the oldest and most respected jazz venues in New York City, if not in the world. It goes a long way back to 1935 when it first opened with Max Gordon at the helm. Initially, it served as folk music and beat poetry venue, but it switched focus to jazz in the 1950s.
Located in Greenwich Village, at 178 7th Avenue South, the Vanguard stage has been graced by iconic figures like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Stan Getz, and Charlie Mingus, among many others. In fact, the club helped promote and propel the legendary Thelonius Monk onto the NYC scene, as he was a relatively unknown artist at the time of his first Vanguard performance in 1948. Many of the artists who performed at the Village Vanguard also recorded live albums there, including John Coltrane and Bill Evans.
Playing at the club was like a rite of passage for rising jazz talents, and that hasn’t changed; the Village Vanguard is an iconic jazz mecca that you simply must visit if you’re in New York City.
Mitch Borden, the owner of the Smoke Jazz & Supper Club, was apparently so into jazz, that he opened his second club, dubbed the Fat Cat, at 75 Christopher at 7th Avenue in the West Village. The vibe at Fat Cat is just what you would expect from a classic, ‘they-don't-make-them-like-this-anymore’ type of jazz club. The basement location also incorporates a pool hall where you can hang out before the live music starts in the other room. There’s live jazz every night, and the music stays on until closing time at 4 AM.
Over the years, the Fat Cat has hosted live performances from iconic jazz figures, including Leroy Williams, Billy Kay, Richard Wyands, Melvin Rhynes, and Milton Cardona. The club also stands out for keeping its attendance fee lower than other jazz venues, at $10 per person.
While it’s hard to filter all the jazz clubs in New York City to pick the best ones, some venues just have to be included in the list. Minton’s Playhouse is definitely one of them, and we couldn’t leave it out.
Founded by saxophonist Henry Minton in 1938, the club is located at 210 West 118th Street, on the Cecil Hotel's ground floor, in Harlem. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the club was one of the hottest places in town, the birthplace of bebop, and a veritable mecca for jazz lovers. Legends like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Kenny Clarke graced the stage of the club in those days, and it became so popular that even Charles Mingus had to audition to get on stage.
However, it wasn’t all fun and games for Minton’s club. In the 1960s, jazz bands lost some of their popularity, and the venue suffered, eventually closing in 1974. Three decades later, it was time for a revival, and the club reopened in 2006; the Uptown Lounge at Minton’s Playhouse, as it was called, didn’t succeed as planned, and it was closed again in 2010. Finally, in 2013, the club returned to its jazz roots and reopened once again, and currently features upscale cuisine by executive chef Landy Mendoza and a design by Estudio Sarah Garcia. Owners Raphael Benavides Baccus and Richard Parsons have also opened a restaurant next door, The Cecil Steakhouse. If you’re in town, you should make sure to pay Minton’s a visit and follow in the footsteps of the jazz giants who once played there.