For locals and visitors alike, the decision of which jazz club to go to and who to hear can be as challenging as choosing a restaurant or finding a decent Australian flat white, since each venue has a unique atmosphere and a different musical offering. So take it from me, a professional jazz musician!
Jazz has been a staple of New York’s nightlife scene for a century, and is still just as vibrant today as it was when legends like Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald graced the many stages across the city. Here are six great places to see JAZZ in New York City!
1. The Village Vanguard
A sacred venue to jazz musicians, the Village Vanguard was founded in 1935 and is NYC’s oldest jazz club still in operation.
Needless to say, the Vanguard’s forest green walls have witnessed the making of history (musical or otherwise) and its countless framed portraits of jazz greats line the room, having remained largely untouched for decades.
But that’s not to say that the music you’ll hear at the Vanguard is a sort of time capsule – you’ll hear the pinnacle of today’s jazz music in the heart of Greenwich Village.
2 and 3. Smalls and Mezzrow
This pair of sister clubs are steps from each other (and also the Village Vanguard), straddling either side of 7th Ave, on West 10th St. While both basement clubs are operated by the same people (and so a ticket to Smalls typically gets you in at Mezzrow too!), these clubs have completely different atmospheres.
Smalls describes itself as a “tiny no-frills space” that “delivers live jazz bands and jam sessions at modest prices”. While that’s a pretty accurate description, it’s also worth noting the beauty of its programming: you can see “young bloods” making a name for themselves at Smalls, just as often as you can see today’s firmly-established jazz artists tearing it up.
On the other side of 7th Ave, Mezzrow offers an experience somewhere between wine cellar and speakeasy, and the music reflects the vibe of the room, which is more intimate. Head to Mezzrow to hear smaller ensembles – think solos, duos or trios mostly – and order yourself a glass of vino from the bar.
4. Cellar Dog (formerly Fat Cat)
A favorite late night hang, Cellar Dog is not only a vibrant jazz venue, but it also boasts pool and ping pong tables, shuffleboard, and even chess and Scrabble boards. Oh, and it’s also walking distance from the Village Vanguard, Smalls and Mezzrow…
Grab yourself a ticket to get “on line” (remind me why Americans say that again?) for the parlor game, billiards, or table sport of your choice, then tap your foot between turns, grab a drink, and don’t forget to tip your bartender and the band at Cellar Dog!
5. Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center
If you’re looking for a glamorous evening of live jazz accompanied by a full meal and a cocktail or two, look no further than Dizzy’s Club. Unlike the previous subterranean establishments, Dizzy’s boasts an incredible view which looks out over the southwest corner of Central Park that’ll make you (and maybe your wallet) weep, just a bit. But I think, considering the quality of the music, food, drinks and vista, it’s totally worth it for a thrilling night out!
Dizzy’s is housed at the Jazz at Lincoln Center campus (nearby the rest of Lincoln Center), which is also home to a few other larger performance venues such as the Appel Room and the Rose Theater, which host performances more like a traditional ‘concert’ (keep your eyes peeled for these shows too!).
Jazz musicians like cheap rent. While Manhattan rent is notoriously expensive, Brooklyn is a little more budget-friendly, and so lots of jazz musicians live just across the other side of the East River, in neighborhoods including Bushwick, Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Bed Stuy. And so, Ornithology is home turf for many jazz musicians in Brooklyn, and is devoid of the tourist traps of Manhattan. This is where musicians go to hang out and hear each other play. Check out the young and emerging local talent at Ornithology!