Where to hear jazz in New York
Some of my recommendations to people that want to check out some New York jazz. Of course, no place is 100% consistent with the booking or anything else, perhaps, but I’d anyway have some tips for the curious that wonder where to start their searches.
The classic place where everybody should go in New York, at some point, is the Village Vanguard. That is the only jazz club in its original location, so it’s definitely the most historic venue for that matter. Also, there are a bunch of jazz clubs in the West Village besides the Vanguard – Smalls, 55 Bar, Bar Next Door, Fat Cat, Zinc Bar, Blue Note, Garage, also, there is good jazz at Rubin museum nearby. Many of those are nice, depending on the night.
Highlighting some of them:
Bar Next Door – This one I’d actually recommend – good booking, food and wine etc, nice atmosphere, really good service. So far I’ve always had a good time there. Music cover is $12, if you eat as well, it will get pretty expensive.
Smalls – used to be a lot more hip some years ago, but nowadays it depends a lot on the night. There are cool people hanging around, anyway. The jam sessions can be really boring, but occasionally, something might happen ;). In my opinion, rather expensive (I think nowadays they even charge for the jam session), unless you’re able to negotiate.
55 Bar– quite a classic spot, but in every way, it depends a lot on the night. The early shows are free, and their cheapest beer Yuengling is just $5.
Fat Cat – good to know that place, especially if you happen to be out late. A lot of cool cats. It’s really affordable as well. Musically it really depends on the night, but to go check out the jam session later at night is kind of compulsory for a lot of the jazz people when in the area, and it might be a lot of fun, too.
An interesting venue to visit would be Jazz Gallery, which is actually also walking distance from the West Village. It has gotten more expensive recently, but it’s mostly worth it.
There are places in the Upper West Side such as Smoke, Cleopatra’s Needle. I wouldn’t recommend Smoke unless you’re OK with spending a bit too much money. Cleopatra’s Needle might be nice if you’re in the neighborhood, but probably not worth making a special trip up there. There is also Jazz @ Lincoln Center, which I don’t really frequent, probably because it’s either nothing special or too expensive for me.
Then there are places in the Times Square area such as Iridium and Birdland (nicer if you take the premium seating 😉 ), which are OK, but feeling kind of corporate.
One of my favorite clubs is Jazz Standard (East 26th St), not so far from Union Square. That would work really well if you’d also like to have dinner (great American barbeque).
And other places to consider would be Le Poisson Rouge and Joe’s Pub, which have jazz occasionally, but a lot of other cool stuff as well. And Rockwood Music Hall @ Lower East Side is an interesting place, they have all kinds of things. I don’t like Nublu anymore, though.
For the adventurous, Stone in the East Village is a must-visit. It changes the curator by the month/2 weeks so, it depends.
I like going to Harlem as well, for example the Shrine has up and coming talent, and St.Nicks is just a great old fashioned Harlem jazz club with amazing atmosphere.
Generally speaking, for more experimental and less expensive adventures there would be East Village and Brooklyn. See my post on Brooklyn jazz clubs here.
To find out about the listings most people use the monthly newspaper All About Jazz NY (which one can pick up at any of the jazz clubs and places), Hot House magazine. The Search and Restore site has many of the listings and some good show recommendations as well, but I’ve noticed there are sometimes mistakes and inaccuracies, and some of the things might not be covered at times, but generally really useful anyway.
But most of all, the best way to find stuff is to go hear something, and follow particular musicians that you like in the scene – one of the best ways to discover the music, I think, since the players that you like probably play with other great people and so on and so forth 😉