by Jazz editor Mark Sanderlin
Since jazz first traveled upstream on the Mississippi and spread throughout the United States, New York City has been the hub for jazz, cabaret and everything in between. It would be impossible to dismantle the link between the city and the sounds of the city. Jazz is that sound. From Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” to Kander & Ebb’s “New York, New York,” the Big Apple has been immortalized countless times in song and any casual onlooker could spot the parallels between the madcap rush of the city and the improvisational music that defines it.
Like just about every other art form, there are easily dozens of places to hear and see jazz in NYC on any given night. Small clubs like Fat Cat, Smalls and Zinc Bar are spread throughout the city and generally feature local musicians in intimate settings (read: dive bars). Venerable institutions like The Village Vanguard, Blue Note and Birdland have mile-long lists of jazz legends who have crossed their stages and are still requisite stops for any musician on the climb. These tend to have steeper covers, but the quality is simply unparalleled. Just like the art scene in NYC has its Chelsea galleries and its stoic cousins MoMA and The Met, jazz has its own uptown bastion in Jazz at Lincoln Center. With Wynton Marsalis at the helm, JaLC is one of the best-known and most well-run institutions dedicated to the jazz preservation and education in the country.
Here at Arts America, we’ve listed some of our favorite venues which represent just a smattering of what is available in the city that never sleeps. If you happen to be visiting and hear of a great new jazz spot, we encourage you to follow the lead. New and exciting scenes are constantly springing up as the city absorbs and processes fresh sounds that arrive here every day. We’ve compiled our favorites into the following categories:
- Jazz Clubs: Some of the quintessential haunts of the jazz elite.
- Cabarets: New York is the birthplace and home of some of the world’s best intimate venues to see and hear the best jazz and theatrical performers.
- Special Venues & Presenters: The historical significance of jazz in the city cannot be overstated, and there are a number of organizations that aim to continue the tradition for future generations while pushing the boundaries of the genre for the here and now.
Late Sets: Many small clubs that host multiple sets in an evening will have a discounted cover charge for sets after midnight.
Student Discounts: With almost as many colleges and universities as jazz clubs in the city, some venues offer student discounts.
Festival Discounts: With no large open areas to host big festivals (other than Central Park), jazz festivals in NYC will often take place over multiple nights at multiple locations. Discounts are frequently available when purchasing festival passes for multiple shows.