10 Historical Jazz Clubs in NYC That'll Keep You Dancin'
10 Historical Jazz Clubs in NYC That’ll Keep You Dancin’
New York City is the indisputable Jazz capital of the world. The electrifying streets of New York are home to a plethora of things to do, among those things are its historic jazz clubs, many christened in reverence for the icons who built the foundation of the mesmeric jazz culture. Creativity and innovation are the hallmarks of jazz culture and were the driving characteristics of jazz icons Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and various other innovators whose names adorn the billboards over many clubs. Many of the dynamic collection of legendary musicians who were instrumental in cultivating the roots of this great American pastime were produced from the soil of the Big Apple, or at least relocated to carve their own niche and ripen their legendary status.
From the genre’s early roots during the “jazz age” in the 1920s to the rise of prominent nightclubs in the late ‘40s that still operate today, jazz music in New York City offers an eclectic mix of smooth harmonies and syncopated rhythms to keep you on the dancefloor. Your reservation to Westgate New York Grand Central cannot be complete until you visit one of New York’s historic jazz spots. It is not uncommon to find a bustling nightclub offering live music any night of the week where you often find yourself sitting alongside living legends taking in the sweet sounds of aspiring artists. So, grab your dancing shoes and let’s explore the 10 best historical jazz clubs that warrant a spot on your next must-see list from New York’s rich and storied jazz history.
1 | Birdland | Opened in 1949 and named in reverence of legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, nicknamed “Bird”, this historic jazz club serves as a primary pillar to the jazz community in New York City and has played host to countless influential jazz musicians. The alumnus list of performing artists reads like a who’s who of the jazz community and in addition to Mr. Parker, includes Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Erroll Garner, Bud Powell, and so many more.
Birdland rose to prominence in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s due in large part to the double and triple billings which kept the party going from a 9 pm commencement to early morning curtain call. The small, iconic venue welcomed a profusion of celebrity clientele including Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Sammy Davis Jr. just to name a few patrons who have frequented the premises. While the club has scaled back from its ambitious booking practices of yesteryear, it remains an exciting hotspot to take in the history of the genre and while enjoying a night out for dinner and a drink for locals and tourists alike.
WHERE: 315 W. 44th Street #5402, New York, NY 10036 | WHO: (212-581-3080)
2 | Blue Note Jazz Club | Greenwich Villages’ own Blue Note Jazz Club is a cultural institution and one of the world’s most premier jazz club. The small, intimate setting of the Blue Note Jazz Club allows patrons to comfortably witness the world’s finest jazz musicians perform their craft while preserving the history of jazz. Illustrious and renowned jazz performers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Stanley Turrentine, Lionel Hampton, and Tito Puente have at one time graced the celebrated stage of the Blue Note.
Aside from the cultural phenomenon of showcasing legendary marquee acts, the biggest appeal and charm of the club is the unpredictable nature of who might take the stage while you are in attendance. On any given night, legends such as Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones or Liza Minelli have been known to be called up from the audience and sit in with the performers, providing attendees a chance to witness an unlikely eclectic combination of legendary performing artists.
The Blue Note hosts music every night at 8 pm and 10:30 pm, with a special late-night series at 12:30 am on Friday and Saturday.
WHERE: 131 W. 3rd St. New York, NY 10012| WHO: 212-475-8592
3 | Dizzy’s Club | Get ready for incredible acoustics with a view. Named in honor of the legendary jazz icon Dizzy Gillespie, the stage in Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center provides an immaculate view overlooking Central Park and the Manhattan skyline from an elevated platform. Jazz icon Tony Bennett has described Dizzy’s as “the best jazz room in the city,” and for good reason. The sybaritic bamboo walls flow elegantly throughout the room inundating the listener with an acoustical experience reserved for the most ardent jazz enthusiast while captivating audiences with breath-taking views. While Dizzy’s Club doesn’t have the storied history of other historical jazz spots around the city, its notable view, impeccable sound system and full-service farm-to-table menu create a must-see experience while in New York City.
WHERE: 10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019 | WHO: 212-258-9595
4 | Iridium | Originally opened on 63rd Street and 8th Avenue in 1994, the Iridium is now located at 1650 Broadway on 51st Street. In less than 30 years of operation, this iconic venue has established itself as a musical landmark attracting superstars from jazz, blues, and pop to the small, intimate stage. However, don’t let the size of the venue fool you, the Iridium has attracted megastars and headlining acts such as Jeff Beck, Steve Miller, Buddy Guy, Joe Walsh, Zakk Wylde, Joe Satriani, Mick Taylor and Charlie Watts from the Rolling Stone, and many more to perform on its stage.
The Iridium is most famous for hosting guitar legend Les Paul, the namesake for iconic Gibson Les Paul guitars used by countless musicians, who performed every week until his passing in 2009. In the spirit of freeform jazz, it was not uncommon for musical guests and celebrities to join Les Paul to jam together. Most notably, NASA Astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, once made a special appearance and jammed with Les Paul. The Iridium is often celebrated by local regulars as “the house that Les built.”
While in The Big Apple, be sure to add the Iridium to your itinerary to witness the always interesting pairing of musicians at this famous jazz club. You never know who might show up and jam.
WHERE: 1650 Broadway, New York, NY 10019 | WHO: 212-582-2121
5 | 55 Bar | Step back in time at the 55 Bar, a prohibition-era dive bar that plays host to incredible live jazz, two times a night, every night of the week. Early shows are usually free to attend and feature some of the best newcomers to the jazz scene while later shows include a nominal cover charge and feature more established acts. This is the type of place where it is the norm to rub shoulders with jazz legends while watching the hottest up-and-coming acts.
While the historic 55 Bar is a small, intimate dive bar with a celebrated past, patrons have witnessed the birth of large headlining acts. Most notably, the 55 Bar is where multi-platinum, Grammy Award-Winning artist Norah Jones was discovered. Visit the 55 Bar for your opportunity to catch the next biggest name in jazz.
WHERE: 55 Christopher St., New York, NY 10014 | WHO: 212-929-9883
6 | Minton’s Playhouse | Registered on both the National and the New York State Register of Historic Places, Minton’s Playhouse is resolutely one of the most iconic shrines in the world of jazz. Founder Henry Minton, a renowned saxophonist from whom the venue bears its namesake, established the club in 1938 and is commonly attributed to the birthplace of bebop, a stylized subgenre of jazz incorporating fast tempos with complex chord progressions. Throughout the history of this iconic venue, many legends have stepped on this stage including Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and many more.
The charm of this small, intimate venue in Harlem is highlighted by a guided stroll through the working kitchen of The Cecil Steakhouse. Once you enter Minton’s Playhouse, you are swept back in time to the ambiance of a 1940s music hall with reserved seating and an opportunity to enjoy a drink from your personalized wait staff. The walls are draped with historical photographs of the legends who have graced the stage over the years. This one-of-a-kind establishment is the perfect stop on your next trip to New York.
WHERE: 206 W. 118th St., New York, NY 10026| WHO: 212-243-2222
7 | Village Vanguard| While the Village Vanguard opened in 1935, it’s been exclusively a jazz club since 1957 and is currently the world’s oldest continually operated jazz club in the world. What originally started out as a Sunday afternoon Jazz jam series transformed into a launchpad for jazz musicians as influential players like Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus, and Stan Getz perfected their craft within the hallowed halls of the Village Vanguard.
A unique characteristic of the iconic basement club is the wedge or triangle shape of the room, a happy accident that contours the nature of the acoustics into a unique listening experience. This 123-capacity room still hosts legendary performers while allowing patrons to catch some of the hottest up-and-coming artists. The Village Vanguard is an iconic mainstay you need to put on your itinerary the next time you visit New York City.
WHERE: 178 7th Ave S., New York, NY 10014 | WHO: 212-255-4037
8 | Showman’s Jazz Club | “Our local history creates a global impact” is proudly displayed on a poster in the backroom of Showman’s and demonstrates the ethos flaunted amongst the spirit of the establishment. The communal and familial aspects of Showman’s serve as the foundation to the spirit of the historic, yet cozy jazz club. The club is adorned with an old-fashioned style bar which serves your favorite trendy cocktail to be enjoyed among the comfortable, inviting atmosphere. The welcoming attitude of Showman’s induces a hodgepodge cliental with mature audiences mingled with younger students from nearby Columbia University.
Showman’s was Initially opened in 1942 in its original location next to the Apollo Theater but was relocated in 1985 after a fire, then again in 1999 after construction of a shopping mall forced it from the second location. Despite the two relocations, the spirit of Showman’s has endured and remains the longest standing jazz club in Harlem.
Live jazz performances from the hottest up-and-coming acts are on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. There is typically no cover charge but a two-drink minimum is in place.
WHERE: 375 W. 125th St., New York, NY 10027| WHO: 212-864-8941
9 | Bill’s Place | Bill’s Place in Harlem is an authentic speakeasy with roots from the Prohibition era of the 1920s. Since its formative years of serving illegal “bathtub gin”, this historic establishment has transformed into one of the best live jazz venues available anywhere in New York City. Bill’s Place has history festooned amongst the walls and offers a unique live jazz experience inside of a century-old speakeasy.
The legendary Billie Holiday began her singing career during her teenage years, as did Fats Waller and Will the Lion Smith. Today, the self-proclaimed “in your face” jazz artist, Bill Saxton, a world-class saxophonist, leads the Harlem All Stars every Friday night while other straight-ahead jazz artists perform Saturday nights. Reservations are always recommended but when visiting, keep in mind alcohol is not served.
WHERE: 148 W. 133rd St., New York, NY 10030 | WHO: 212-281-0777
10 | Ginny’s Supper Club | A running joke among the regulars at Ginny’s Supper Club is the “dare-you-not-to-dance” atmosphere by the in-demand musicians who frequently perform here. Ginny’s books and regularly showcases the kind of talent only reserved for New York City with some of the most talented and captivating musicians anywhere. With the classic speakeasy motif and entrancing composition of rhythmic harmonies, it’s hard to not be transported to a by-gone era of a 1920s speakeasy.
While it’s almost a guarantee to be absorbed with the music and atmosphere, the biggest draw outside of the tunes and décor is the delectable and exquisite menu offered. Located beneath the Red Rooster, celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson provides his culinary artistry of mouthwatering cuisine to patrons of this throwback establishment.
WHERE: 310 Malcolm X Blvd., New York, NY 10027| WHO: 212-421-3821
Clubs in NYC
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New York provides plenty of variety when choosing a historic entertainment option. During the day, you may want to take in the 15 Historical Sites in NYC that’ll blow you away or find your new favorite restaurant at these 10 finger-lickin’ good establishments.
When the sun sets, dancin’ the night away to some of New York’s finest jazz musicians at historic venues is a great way to spend your evening while visiting New York Grand Central. What better way to rub shoulders with some of the living legends in the same spot that housed the renaissance of the bebop and cool jazz movements. From legendary venues who opened their doors almost a century ago to those who brilliantly recreated the old speakeasy motif, perfectly matched with the legendary players and soon to be legends, New York City is without a doubt, the jazz capital of the world.
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* Westgate Resorts is in no way affiliated with the attractions featured in this article. Items or places listed are current as of the publishing date of this article. Please call or visit the respective website for the most up-to-date offerings and details.