Make time during your visit to New York City to listen to live music. NYC, after all, is home to hundreds of bars, clubs, concert halls and music venues that offer a range of music varieties. If you’re looking to enjoy some live jazz in NYC, here are some places to go.
Start uptown, at 148 West 133rd St. in Harlem, at Bill’s Place, which bills itself as “the only authentic speakeasy” in Harlem. With roots in Prohibition and bathtub gin, as well as a teenage Billie Holiday and Fats Waller playing the piano, the present-day incarnation of Bill’s is known for bebop jazz, gracious hosts and an authentic environment. Stop by on a Friday or Saturday night, but BYOB as live music is served here, but alcohol is not.
Smoke Jazz & Supper Club
For all jazz, all the time, you’ve got to visit Smoke Jazz & Supper Club. Located at 106th St. and Broadway, Smoke has become renowned for not just the quality of its live jazz music, but also for its great food. While it feels like an intimate venue, know that Smoke is a supper club, so there are minimum and cover charges depending on the day and time you go.
Birdland Jazz Club
Jazz aficionados will know that the name of this live jazz venue refers to Charlie Parker, the saxophone genius known as “Yardbird,” which was shortened to “Bird.” The original Birdland opened in 1949 with Parker as the headliner. This iteration of the Birdland Jazz Club is in a different location — 315 West 44th St. — but still worth visiting for its varied jazz scene. Stop by after a Broadway show, or spend all night listening to live music — NYC is known as the City That Never Sleeps for a reason. Be aware that Birdland has a minimum food/drink charge.
Smalls Jazz Club
If you’re looking for a place to listen to jazz into the wee small hours of the night, then Smalls Jazz Club is the place to go. Located at 183 West 10th St. in Greenwich Village, Smalls features three music sets each weeknight and four on weekends; the last running from 1 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. On weekends, the first session is often a band showcase. Expect all different types of jazz, from trios, quartets, groups and more. There’s a cover charge to get into the club.
France has had a love affair with jazz since the 1920s, so it’s not surprising to find a French bistro offering top-notch food and live jazz music in NYC. Jules Bistro is located at 65 Marks Place in the East Village, and offers an intimate atmosphere, a full menu and jazz every night of the week. There’s no cover charge.
Many fans of live music in NYC swear by the Village Vanguard. Jazz lovers will undoubtedly want to make a pilgrimage to see at least one set at the Vanguard, located at 178 7th Ave. South in Greenwich Village. The Vanguard first opened in 1935 and though it hosted many musicians, it became known for the jazz greats who graced its floor, including Dinah Washington, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and more.
The Vanguard was also well-known for its great acoustics, and many albums were recorded live at the Vanguard. Today, you can come hear the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra on Monday nights (playing here since 1966), or get tickets for assorted artists who typically play the Vanguard for several days in a row. Come 30 minutes early for the best seats.