New Orleans is not known as the birthplace of jazz for no reason. It is a city that, for over a century, has lived and breathed jazz. There are plenty of places to hear music in the city, but where are the best jazz clubs in New Orleans?
Any Night Is The Right Night
It is a city where you can hear great jazz any night of the week. The number of clubs and musicians playing and the quality of what you may find, even in the smallest of clubs, is impressive.
Why New Orleans?
For a long time, the city has been a melting pot of cultures. African-American influences from slavery, alongside European influences from those visiting the port for the delivery of goods and trading.
They all congregated in one place, bringing their musical heritage and even their instruments with them. Over time, the rhythms from West Africa merged with the European melodic and harmonic structures. New sounds, new musical ideas. It began to develop into a unique genre.
It is not possible to pin down a date and say, “That is when jazz started.” All we can say is New Orleans is where it all started. Musicians from a variety of places flocked there.
Some, like Louis Armstrong, were born there. The story of his early life in the city is going to surprise you. And he played and recorded with people like Benny Carter on tracks like “Christmas In New Orleans.”
Even today, the city has provided us with great jazz musicians like Harry Connick Jr., and Wynton Marsalis. So, if you are off to the home of jazz and want to know where to listen, here are a few ideas.
The 7 Best Jazz Clubs in New Orleans
Fritzel’s European Jazz Club
Let’s start our wander around the jazz clubs of New Orleans at one of the oldest jazz venues in the city. Located on the famous Bourbon Street, it has a history that goes back many years.
If you are not familiar with Bourbon Street, it is one of the, shall we say, “liveliest” streets in the city. Not the place to go for a quiet night out.
Fritzels’s is a cozy bar amid all the chaos, where the history of the place seeps out of the walls. You might call it “quaint” in European terminology. It is a bar that welcomes and encourages tourists to visit. But, in doing so, it manages to maintain its jazz roots.
Plenty Of Opportunities
The club offers plenty of opportunities to hear some great jazz. It opens up seven nights a week and also has some daytime sessions. The repertoire of the musicians can be quite varied depending on their styles. But you are guaranteed to hear some good old-fashioned New Orleans Jazz.
More than just music…
Visitors to the French Quarter will find Fritzel’s offers great food and drink as well as plenty of specials on a traditional menu. Just another reason to go if you are visiting the city.
By maintaining the traditional New Orleans jazz sound, it has gained a reputation that spreads far beyond New Orleans.
Another famous music club in New Orleans. This one is located on the corner of Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas Streets. I say “music club” because you get much more than jazz here.
It was founded in 1977, especially for performances of Henry Roeland “Roy” Byrd. Or, as he is better known, Professor Longhair. If you aren’t familiar with him, he is a jazz pianist born in Louisiana and a massive influence on the New Orleans jazz scene.
A great exponent of New Orleans Blues, his distinctive piano playing included influences of Latin rhythms. “Tipitina” will give you some idea of his prowess.
More Than Jazz
As I said, Tipitina’s is more than just a jazz club. It offers various music genres that paint an authentic picture of New Orleans music.
You will hear Funk, Rock, R&B, Soul, Reggae, and, of course, Jazz. I use the word “genre,” but that means little in New Orleans. There are so many influences in the music that putting a song in a descriptive box is very hard.
Other musicians who have played at the club are Dr. John & His New Orleans Congregation and The Neville Brothers. While they and others who started at the club have moved on, they occasionally come back and play a set.
Maple Leaf Bar
The Maple Leaf Bar is known as one of New Orleans’ premier jazz clubs. It is located on Oak Street in Uptown, New Orleans.
The first performance back on opening night in 1974 was by Andrew Hall’s Society Jazz Band. If you have never heard them play, check out New Orleans Jazz Is Alive in 2000. After opening night, they held a residency at the club, playing every week for seven years.
They have also had other well-known jazz musicians conduct residencies at the club, including bassist George Porter Jr. and his trio.
Young and old, near and far…
The club does tend to attract a younger clientele due to its proximity to Loyola and Tulane universities. And, because it is a distance from many of the tourist hot spots in the city center, it does not get so crowded.
A jazz club that is out of the center with a bit of room to move but still with some great music. The Maple Leaf is worth a visit when checking out the best jazz clubs in New Orleans.
The Blue Nile
Let’s move on now to one of the most historic music areas of the city of New Orleans – Frenchman Street. The Blue Nile Jazz club is one of the oldest in the area. At one time, it used to be called “The Dream Palace” and was the first bar in the area that featured live music.
As is quite normal in the area, there is a range of music to be heard, including Soul, Funk, and Bluegrass, as well as Jazz. It has seen some of the best jazz players perform, including Trombone Shorty and trumpeter Kermit Ruffins.
In a city that is known and respected for its musical tradition…
It is not surprising that The Blue Nile is near the top of its list. It is usually packed, and the music is loud, with people sometimes spilling outside onto the street.
The stage is small, and the audience is so close to the performers they are almost part of the performance. It is a club where you can soak up the atmosphere and be close to the music.
Not the sort of place you go for a quiet evening’s entertainment. A place where you go to see and hear great music. Maybe they should put a sign outside, “This is New Orleans.”
Too Many to Include Them All
Before I reach the end of my list, let me include some other great New Orleans jazz clubs I haven’t got the space to mention in detail here.[bl]
- Maison Bourbon on Bourbon Street.
- Snug Harbor Jazz and Bistro on Frenchmen Street.
- Three Muses is also on Frenchmen Street.
- The Jazz Playhouse on Bourbon Street.
- Palm Court Jazz Cafe Restaurant and Night Club on Decatur Street.
- Blue Dog Jazz Club on Canal Street.
We have looked at some venues that are offering Jazz plus other musical styles. But, if it is pure and traditional New Orleans Jazz, then get yourselves down to Preservation Hall.
Located on St. Peter Street in the French Quarter, it has hosted many great jazz musicians over the years.
It is open nightly, and there are usually three shows at 8:00, 9:00, and 10:00 pm. It is best to reserve your tickets in advance. Or, if you prefer, you can take your chances in the inevitable queue to get in.
A Jazz Club With A Difference
This is a jazz club with a significant difference from the majority of other clubs in the city. This place is alcohol-free. That makes an interesting change of pace from areas like Bourbon Street, which, to be honest, seems to be in a permanent state of inebriation.
Therefore, Preservation Hall is a great place to go if you have children with you.
Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse
Let’s stay in the French Quarter and, in particular, Bourbon Street for this club. It is an upmarket environment located in the Sonesta Hotel. For many years, the club’s namesake, Irvin Mayfield, had a residency here, which ended in 2016.
These days, there are a variety of acts. And, the great thing about it is you can never be sure just who is going to take the stage. For example, The Young Tuxedo Brass Band. Most of the shows are free unless there is a “name” act when there will be a cover charge.
The Spotted Cat
So, let’s finish this brief tour of New Orleans jazz venues with another stop on Frenchman Street. You will have guessed by now that whilst the city is a veritable gold mine of music, there are parts where it never sleeps.
Frenchman Street is one of these places, and it is here you will find the Spotted Cat. A well-loved and respected part of New Orleans jazz culture if ever there was one.
The Best Of The Best?
Some would argue that it is. It has been called one of the best jazz clubs in the country, not just in New Orleans. It has been used for numerous live recordings. Bands like Jumbo Shrimp Jazz Band recorded here, as did A’Cappella.
If people want real authentic New Orleans Jazz, then this is where most go. It is open every night, and each night there are two or three bands. It is one of those places that is small and intimate enough to make you feel part of the action.
The small stage set in front of a window onto the street adds to the relaxed atmosphere. It is an older venue but retains the elegance there once was in the 20s and 30s in New Orleans. And you feel that as soon as you walk in. A historical jazz club that needs to be on your must-visit list.
Are You Jazz Music Lover?
If you are, take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Chicago Jazz Clubs, the Best Jazz Clubs in Atlanta, Georgia, the Best Jazz Albums of All Time, the Best Jazz Songs, and the Best Jazz Pianists of All Time for more great Jazz information, locations, and song selections.
And, if you’re an aspiring Jazz musician, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Saxophone Reeds for Jazz, the Best Saxophone Mouthpieces For Jazz, the Best Jazz Drum Sets, the Best Jazz Guitars, and the Best Guitar Amps For Jazz you can buy in 2023.
Best Jazz Clubs in New Orleans – Final Thoughts
The mighty Mississippi rolling past the door, huge riverboats plowing their way up and down, and Jazz coming from seemingly every building. The ghosts of the past in every neighborhood remind us of a history that speaks for itself.
If you like Jazz, or indeed good music of any kind, is there a better place to find it? Even the name, New Orleans, conjures up an image. Jazz was born here, and it still thrives. I think it always will.
Until next time, have fun in New Orleans.