It is without question that New Orleans was the birthplace of Jazz as we know it. And it is still a major center where there are dozens of jazz clubs, restaurants, and bars to visit.
But you could also say that New York City is the center of what is now the Jazz scene in America. So, this is a great opportunity to take a look at the best jazz clubs in New York.
An Entertainment Center
Through the early part of the 20th Century, New York developed into one of the centers for the new “American Culture” that was developing. And it wasn’t always very pretty. New York went through some infamous periods in its history.
Eventually, New York became an entertainment center, and leading the way was the music scene. Music has been a pivotal part of New York life for over a hundred years. But, it experienced huge growth at the peak of the jazz age as that style of music became more popular.
The Jazz Age
The Jazz Age reached a peak in the 1920s. It coincided with changes in fashion, cars, the idea of mass culture, and prohibition. A time of being not just a little over-the-top but a long way over it. The Roaring Twenties, they were called.
And, as everything else went into overdrive, so did jazz and the jazz clubs. Establishments like the Cotton Club, where the house band was led by Duke Ellington, became fashionable. Clubs sprang up in every corner. We shall be paying a visit to the Cotton club a bit later.
Still The Same
Nothing much has changed except that you are allowed a beer these days. Jazz clubs in New York are a place where fans and musicians alike assemble. You can see some of everything, from the greats to those just starting and everything in the middle.
We know by its reputation that New York City rarely does things quietly or modestly. It is loud and brash and not to everyone’s liking. But, if you are going to hear some music, then it would be in the top five cities in the world. That makes it worth the trip alone.
So, let’s pay a visit to what could be one of the centers of the jazz world and see what they can throw at us. We haven’t got the space here to include just one-tenth of what you can find. But these are a good starting point for the best Jazz clubs in New York.
Top 11 Best Jazz Clubs in New York
The Village Vanguard
Let’s make a start with a club that has an incredible history. A club that has hosted some jazz legends. Max Gordon opened The Village Vanguard in 1935. It started life as a folk club that also held poetry readings. It became a recognized New York jazz club in 1957.
Today, it holds its position of being the oldest jazz club in New York that is still operating. It has seen some of the undisputed greats of jazz play in its intimate surroundings. Some of these legends recorded live albums at the club.
It’s quite an impressive list…
But add to that list the others who have played here, like Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. It reads like a “who’s who” of some of the greatest jazz giants.
The booking of Monk was significant because then he was not widely known. The Village Vanguard brought him to prominence in New York.
On Monday Evening
That is when the house band plays. A prestigious band to be in, with ‘chairs’ handed down over many years. The club is located in Greenwich Village at Seventh Avenue south. It has a capacity of about 120.
This is a decent size jazz club but one that retains a very intimate atmosphere. It is located in the Lincoln Center in the heart of New York, which is a huge venue for a range of live entertainment.
It is not short of important names that are involved in the running of the club. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is the artistic director of jazz.
He ensures that the artists’ performances are of a high standard. And that includes some of the young and rising stars from the world of jazz in New York and further afield.
It runs traditional jazz sets…
And also holds a popular late show. Singer Tony Bennett called Dizzy’s one of the best jazz rooms in New York.
It is open seven days a week and will hold about 140 people. The club is located at Broadway & W 64th St.
The Jazz Forum
This jazz club describes itself as a jazz community held together by its patrons and musicians who love jazz. It only opened quite recently in 2017 and has just celebrated its 5th birthday. That celebration saw the Roy Hargrove Quintet play.
It is only open at weekends and is run as a not-for-profit community project. There is plenty of music on sale featuring artists associated with the Jazz forum, which is where all the profits are directed.
There are two rooms – the main room holding about 85 people and an intimate lounge holding 15. The Jazz Forum is located a short walk from the Metro station, North Tarrytown, in Westchester County, New York. It is a short ride on the train from Grand Central station.
Mezzrow Jazz Club
Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow was the clarinetist who inspired the name of this famous New York jazz club. He was a well-known jazz musician in Chicago in the 20s.
It is an intimate and warm club that is lit by candlelight. It’s more of what you might call a “listening room.” One of its nice little extras is a great selection of wines and cocktails. Situated in Greenwich Village, it is owned and run by the same people that run another jazz club in the city, Smalls.
We will look at that club next…
The owner describes the Mezzrow Jazz Club as a jazz venue that has a lounge and listening room. It must have something special because it has an endorsement from Steinway Pianos. Placed in the club is a full-size grand. Listen to jazz piano greats in some style.
The Mezzrow Jazz Club is situated at 163 West 10th Street, holds about 60 people, and is open seven days a week.
As I said, Smalls is owned and run by the same people as the Mezzrow Jazz Club. It was opened in 1994 and is a club that is known for introducing new jazz acts. This applies especially to Bebop and Hard Bop styles.
Many young players have a weekly gig at the club and become quite well-known, not only in New York but beyond.
It is always a good place to visit if you want to see some new and up-and-coming talent. It’s also a place where artists like recording live because of the atmosphere.
Another thing that Smalls has gained a reputation for…
… is its live-streaming service. This was almost an essential but creative answer to the closures of entertainment venues during the Covid pandemic. They have continued to provide this service with no cost to watch their live streams.
Smalls is located at 183 W 10th St.
The Cotton Club
The original Cotton Club was an institution with a reputation during the Roaring 20s. It was the place where politicians and gangsters, film stars, and other well-known clientele congregated.
From 1923 to 1940, it was founded initially on 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue; then, it moved a couple of times before it settled at its present location.
The original club…
Offered fine dining and expensive wines and cocktails. And, of course, there was jazz which was the “in” thing at the time. If you didn’t go to the Cotton Club, then people would just say, “Who?”
While there, you might hear the music of:
It is a little different today…
Machine guns in violin cases aren’t required. These days, it is a part of what is known as the “Harlem Renaissance.” You get treated to some Swing on Monday and some home-grown gospel on Saturday and Sunday.
The rest of the week is a mixture of jazz and blues nights. Plenty to choose from. The club is located these days at 183 W 10th St.
The 55 Bar
Another great jazz club in Greenwich Village, The 55 Bar, has been in business for more than a century. It calls itself a “prohibition-era dive bar.” This a somewhat misleading term in today’s world, but just a little reminder of the history of the “Village” in earlier times and especially this bar.
These days, you will still get plenty of jazz, but you can also hear live Blues and Funk almost every night. Considered by some to be one of the best jazz clubs in New York, with plenty of new talent alongside well-known local musicians. It is located at 55 Christopher Street.
Established in 1981 in Greenwich Village, Blue Note has developed into a brand, not just a jazz club. Besides New York, you will find Blue Note jazz clubs in Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, Milan, Rio, and Sao Paulo.
Many of the biggest names in jazz, like Chick Corea, have performed and recorded live albums at Blue Note. The club is known for inviting well-known musicians up onto the stage to join in the music as they do at Ronnie Scott’s in London.
It is not just the well-known musicians that play at Blue Note…
They like to extend a welcome to up-and-coming jazz musicians as well. It is, therefore, a platform for new talent. Blue Note also has its own very successful record label allowing musicians to take their music to the marketplace.
The club holds over 200, so it lacks the intimacy of some of the smaller clubs. But it is a great place to hear jazz in New York. Blue Note is located at 131 West 3rd Street.
The Jazz Standard is one of New York’s most famous jazz clubs. Many great musicians have not only played here but also recorded here.
Charlie Mingus brought his big band and recorded, and also held a residency here, rotating his big band and jazz orchestra on alternate Mondays. The club has also played host to world-class musicians like Andre Previn. But, it is also known for giving young musicians their first big break.
There are usually two shows each night, seven days a week. The club holds about 150 people. In 2017, it was voted New York’s best jazz club. It is located in Manhattan at 116 East 27th Street.
The National Jazz Museum, Harlem
Before we move on to our final club on this list, let me just let you know about the National Jazz Museum. It opened in 1997 and is based at 104 East 126th Street. It moved to its present location, in Central Harlem at 58 West 129th Street in 2016.
If you are interested in the history of jazz in New York, definitely a place to visit.
You might guess where they got the inspiration for the name of this jazz club. Our last look at jazz clubs in New York features this famous venue. It opened in 1949, and the headline act was the mercurial bebop master Charlie Parker. “The Bird.”
However, he was just one of the illustrious musicians that frequented and played at Birdland. Some of them recorded live albums:
If you want to read about the illustrious history of Birdland, an excellent read is “Birdland, the Jazz Corner of the World: An Illustrated Tribute, 1949–1965“.
Others who have appeared at the club include:
- Dizzy Gillespie.
- John Coltrane.
- Theolonius Monk.
- Errol Garner.
- Stan Getz.
The list just goes on.
A Couple Of Location Changes
The club had to move from its original site on the Upper West Side in 1986. It later moved to its present site but continues to be frequented by today’s jazz greats.
Jazz fans and musicians make a pilgrimage to this place. For some, it is enough to just go to feel the atmosphere. There is a main room that holds about 200 people, and the downstairs theater holds 100.
The range of jazz includes Contemporary Jazz and Swing as well as Latin-influenced performers. It is located at 315 West 44th St.
Are You a Big Jazz Fan?
If so, take a look at our thoughts on the Best Chicago Jazz Clubs, the Best Jazz Clubs in New Orleans, the Best Jazz Clubs in Atlanta, Georgia, the Best Jazz Songs, and the Best Jazz Albums of All Time for great Jazz clubs and musical selections.
Also, 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, and the Best Jazz Guitars that you can buy in 2023.
Best Jazz Clubs in New York – Final Thoughts
It shouldn’t be a big surprise that New York has an abundance of jazz clubs. It has an abundance of music generally, as do most major cities in the world. But it is a little different in the Big Apple.
The jazz clubs are driven by the love of the music. Again, as they are in most cities in the world that are into their jazz. New York is a little different in that you are likely to get some of the great jazz legends to turn up to play.
That is not something that happens spontaneously too often elsewhere…
If a jazz great visits London, a lot of people will know about it. In New York, it can just happen.
The history of jazz might be in New Orleans, but New York is where things are happening. And that is because of the number of jazz clubs and the quality of the music. This is a city you must visit if jazz is your thing, and this list gives you a starting point.
Until next time, have fun, and happy listening.