The Big Apple and jazz music go together like Paris and expressionist art. New Yorkers have listened to jazz in smoky late-night clubs since the early 1900s. While cigarette smoke may have vacated the premises in 2002, jazz in The City That Never Sleeps is still going strong, having endured now for over a century.
African Americans led the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, birthing musicians such as Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. Spots such as The Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall survived prohibition, mob rule, and segregation to deliver jazz to flappers, gangsters, budding musicians, tourists, and of course, late-night revelers looking to dance.
Let’s explore the best jazz clubs in NYC today, perfect for Strangers In The Night dancing Cheek To Cheek, whether it’s September In The Rain or Autumn In New York.
Best New York Jazz Clubs
1. Village Vanguard
178 7th Ave S, New York, NY 10014, United States
Since 1935, the Village Vanguard has occupied a triangular basement club on 178 Seventh Avenue South in the city’s affluent West Village. The venue was opened by Max Gordon, responsible for helping to launch the careers of Woody Allen, Lead Belly, Barbra Streisand, and Woody Guthrie.
Originally a platform for poets and writers, where appreciative audiences threw cash onto the stage, the Vanguard toyed with comedy, folk music, and cabaret before switching to jazz full-time in 1957.
A golden period from the 40s to the 80s saw many of the greatest-ever jazz legends walk down the famous black and gold stairs to the tiny maroon stage. Miles David, Dinah Washington, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane all played in front of an audience so close they could easily reach out and tap a B-flat on the piano.
The club also hosted Thelonious Monk, who was at the time unknown. Gordon’s wife Lorraine is credited with discovering Monk, whose performance here kickstarted his glittering career.
The Vanguard is perhaps more famous for its music recordings. The venue’s first recording was Sonny Rollins’ A Night At The Village Vanguard. John Coltrane recorded his first live album Coltrane “Live” At The Village Vanguard here in 1961. The Vanguard also hosted the final recording performance of Bill Evans Trio’s Scott LaFaro.
The wedge-shaped room capacity of 123 is a living shrine to jazz music. Jazz memorabilia cover the walls and the audience sip cocktails and applaud warmly throughout each performance.
The club still handpicks every performing artist. Every Monday night sees a show by the house band, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, a residency that has spanned over half a century.
Shows this year have included Ravi Coltrane, son of John and successful musician in his own right, Bowie collaborator Donny McClasin and the influential Kenny Barron Quintet.
2. Birdland Jazz Club
315 W 44th St #5402, New York, NY 10036, United States
A stone’s throw from Times Square, the Birdland (named for legendary saxophonist Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker) remains an essential part of NYC musical history.
The club originated in 1949 just one block away from the city’s ‘Swing Street’, a post-Prohibition hotbed of jazz during the 1930s. The opening headline act was Charlie Parker himself, who helped to lead double and triple bills of back-to-back jazz.
Regulars such as Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich and Sammy Davis, Jr., would regularly emerge onto 52nd Street at dawn, having paid the $1.50 admission fee for the choice of cabaret or an intense session of live jazz in the bullpen music room.
Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Lester Young, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald have all played the headline bill at the Birdland, along with Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. Jazz pianist George Shearing composed the song Lullaby of Birdland for the club’s inhouse DJ station. Birdland is also mentioned in Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road, Quincy Jones’ song Jazz Corner of the World and Ray Charles’ What’d I Say?
In 1965, the original Birdland site closed its doors, with Rock & Roll taking prominence in the city. 21 years later the Birdland re-opened its doors on the corner of 105th Street at 2745 Broadway. However, a decade on, Birdland returned to its spiritual home of Midtown.
Jazz lovers munch on Cajun-inspired fare and choose either a bar or table seat to enjoy acts such as the Mingus Dynasty and David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band, who have performed a weekly residency for 21 years.
The club has also hosted the Umbria Jazz Festival and the Annual Django Reinhardt NY Festival.
3. Roulette Intermedium
509 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217, United States
Roulette Intermedium is a nonprofit contemporary performing arts and music venue on Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue. Previously located in TriBeCa and SoHo, the movement is now based in a 1927 Art Deco music hall in downtown Brooklyn’s eleven-story YMCA building.
The artist-run movement was founded in 1978 by four graduates from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a strong focus on inclusivity and individual expression. Artists selected the programmes and venues, with a view for young artists and performers to meet and exchange ideas.
During the late ‘70s and ‘80s, the Roulette was a key venue for improvised jazz music, specializing in special events and improvised on-stage jazz collaborations. In 2011, the club reopened in the renovated theatre with grand 25-foot-high ceilings and a capacity of 600.
Previous acts include free-form jazz drummer and composer William Hooker, multi-instrumentalist Ned Rothenberg and jazz trumpeter Kirk Knuffke.
Past residences have welcomed avant-garde improviser Wendy Eisenberg and interdisciplinary artists Muyassar Kurdi and Eddy Kwon.
4. Blue Note Jazz Club
131 W 3rd St, New York, NY 10012, United States
The Blue Note Jazz Club and restaurant hardly requires any introduction. The famed jazz venue is one of the world’s most well-known, with venues in Hawaii, Napa, Tokyo, Rio, Sao Paulo, Milan, Beijing and Shanghai.
Its home, however, lies in New York City’s historic Greenwich Village. The club opened in 1981 with the idea of bringing big-name legends to an intimate room full of jazz enthusiasts sipping Old Fashioned cocktails and traditional American food.
Shows are every evening at 8 pm and 10.30 pm with the Blue Note’s famous jazz brunches at 12 pm and 2.30 pm every Sunday. The venue also hosts a talent showcase event, the Late Night Groove Series, every weekend morning.
Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, and the Modern Jazz Quartet have all performed at the Blue Note, with Kenny Garrett, Lionel Hampton, Avishai Cohen having released live albums on the location’s live record label Half Note Records. The Nat Adderley Quintet played on the original opening night and Ray Charles used to perform an annual week-long residency.
Part of the Blue Note’s appeal is that anything can happen on any given night. You may catch a new jazz talent at the historic site’s talent showcase or you may even be lucky enough to witness a star performer pulled from the audience to join in one stage. Previous impromptu performances have come from the likes of Liza Minelli, Stevie Wonder, and Tony Bennett.
A night down the Blue Note is like no other.
5. Smoke Jazz Club
2751 Broadway, New York, NY 10025, United States
All the way up on 105th Street lies the Smoke Jazz Club, an authentic nightclub experience on the Upper West Side, a place post-pop pianist Harold Mabern called “the best jazz club in the world”.
The stylish venue has great acoustics, good food, and a plush music ‘listening’ room with crystalline chandeliers, red velvet curtains, and banquettes. Attached to the listening room is a bar where diners and jazz enthusiasts can enjoy a pre-show drink.
The venue named after the Harvey Keitel film Smoke opened in 1999 with an opening set from former Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock saxophonist George Coleman. Regulars have since enjoyed sets from the likes of influential jazz artist Brad Mehldau, prolific saxophonist Chris Potter, and Jimmy Cobb, a former member of Miles Davis’ First Great Sextet.
Many live recordings at the Smoke have been released including sets from Lea DeLaria, Satoshi Inoue, and Ian Hendrickson-Smith. It even has its own record label imprint Smoke Sessions Records.
It’s well worth a trip from the traditional jazz home of Midtown to enjoy a drink at the Smoke’s sophisticated exposed brick full-length bar. Contemporary concerts include the Russell Malone Quartet and the Charles McPherson Quintet.
After closing for two years during the COVID pandemic, the venue has recently re-opened to the delight of Harlem locals for whom the venue’s classic and modern jazz program and much-loved supper club have rejuvenated the area’s music scene.
In addition to the traditional jazz and dinner setting, and being one of the Best Jazz Clubs in New York, the Smoke also now offers live-stream concerts, sidewalk gigs, and outdoor dining.
Best Jazz Clubs New York List:
- Village Vanguard – 178 7th Ave S, New York, NY 10014, United States
- Birdland Jazz Club – 315 W 44th St #5402, New York, NY 10036, United States
- Roulette Intermedium – 509 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217, United States
- Blue Note Jazz Club – 131 W 3rd St, New York, NY 10012, United States
- Smoke Jazz Club – 2751 Broadway, New York, NY 10025, United States