Jazz music has had a strong connection with the culture and people of New York City since its beginnings. By the time jazz had moved from New Orleans to the cities of the West and the Northeast, arguably some of the most important evolutions occurred in New York City, the jazz capital of the world. This jazz guide from NYC.com, the New York City Experts, offers:
• A Brief Overview of Jazz History and Jazz in New York City
• Jazz Clubs and Venues
• Notable Jazz Attractions
• Jazz Festivals
A Brief Overview of Jazz History and Jazz in New York City
Though the roots of jazz are often debated, the roots of the music began in New Orleans. The musical interactions that took place in Congo Square (now Louis Armstrong Park) and helped to introduce the call and response method to American music. In addition, the instrumentation of the early bands, trombone, trumpet, and tuba, had a profound influence on the emergence of jazz as well. The first two decades of the 20th century introduced other forms of music, mainly Ragtime and the blues, which also helped to shape early jazz.
The music of composers like Scott Joplin and W.C. Handy combined elements of African-American folk music with European song structures, which created a sound unheard up until this time. Since the record had not yet been invented, the best way for the public to consume this music was through purchasing the sheet music. Scott Joplin moved to New York City in 1908 and he eventually died here in 1917. Minstrel shows and vaudeville acts were another manner in which people consumed the early forms of jazz and many well-known early jazz figures gained invaluable experience playing in these types of shows.
Pianist James P. Johnson, born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1894, eventually made his way to New York City and was one of the most important figures in the emergence of early jazz. Johnson grew up listening to the rags of Scott Joplin and combined this with his own take on the blues to create a style of piano playing called stride, a style that had a profound impact on bebop pianists like Thelonious Monk. In the 1920s, with Prohibition and a decade of indulgence in full swing, musicians like trumpeter Louis Armstrong, pianist/composer Duke Ellington, and bandleader Kid Ory were popularizing this new style of music from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York. In Harlem, Duke Ellington began his historic residency at the Cotton Club in 1927 and helped to establish the new music as more than just something heard in clubs and speakeasies.
Though New York City was a popular destination for music during the 1920s, Chicago was the hotspot. Many musicians from New Orleans made their way to the Windy City and had a large impact on musicians there including Benny Goodman, who eventually made his way to New York in the following decade. Many Americans were affected by the ravages of the Great Depression, but during such a hard time the entertainment and music industries flourished. The Swing Era, the most popular time for jazz music in its’ history, dominated the musical landscape in the United States. The bands of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, and Artie Shaw were all conducting and writing groundbreaking music that defined the Swing Era.
In January of 1938, Benny Goodman along with members from the Count Basie Orchestra and Duke Ellington Orchestra brought jazz to New York City’s Carnegie Hall, which marked the first time the music was performed there. More importantly it marked the first time the music had presented to the masses by a racially integrated group, which included pianist Teddy Wilson and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.
Following the Swing Era new musical minds began converging in Manhattan and created a new kind of music called bebop. This new music went on to permanently change jazz forever. The musical ideas of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and Mary Lou Williams differed drastically from swing music; it introduced more complex harmonic structures and melodic ideas, which involved extended use of chromatics and passing tones. Many young musicians got their start playing with these musicians including trumpeter Miles Davis, who went on to make his own mark on jazz.
Jazz music during the 1950s moved into its’ most flourishing time period. The careers of Horace Silver, Clifford Brown, and Jackie McLean launched during this time period. Pianist Dave Brubeck scored the first platinum album for jazz while Miles Davis achieved high critical and commercial success with his release Kind of Blue
. This decade marks the time period in which labels like Riverside, Atlantic, Blue Note, and Prestige released some of the most influential and revered jazz music. Many of these labels were founded in New York City during or before the 1950s and continued to operate in NYC for the following decades.
Just as America was drastically changing during the 1960s, so was jazz. The music of Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Cannonball Adderley, and Miles Davis all dominated the decade; whether it was avant-garde, soul-jazz, or post bop. In particular the music of Miles Davis helped to define the emergence of fusion in the 1970s as many of the musicians in his band, Chick Corea. Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, and John McLaughlin were all members on the trumpeter’s classical fusion-experimental albums In A Silent Way
and Bitches Brew
The 1970s was a time of great experimentation with the addition of synthesizers and advanced recording techniques. Groups like Weather Report (formed by Zawinul and Shorter), Mahavishnu Orchestra (formed by McLaughlin), the Headhunters (formed by Hancock), and Return to Forever (founded by Corea) combined elements of funk, rock, classical, and Latin music to create various hybrids of jazz called fusion. Though the acoustic movement was alive during the 1970s, this time period marks the largest significant change in the overall sound of jazz.
Wynton Marsalis and the “Young Lions,” came along in the 1980s to help redefine jazz once again. The young trumpeter along with his brother Branford, pianist Kenny Kirkland, and others introduced the traditional sound back to jazz, which harkened the days of bebop and hard bop. Since his introduction to the jazz world, Wynton Marsalis was appointed as the Artistic Director for NYC’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, which is one of the largest organizations in the world that deals exclusively with jazz. Though Marsalis has always had his opponents and critics, his work as a tireless educator and performer have once again helped focus the spotlight of jazz back to NYC.
For the last two decades and counting, New York City continues to be a place where people come to see jazz and where musicians live to create it. Countless venues and establishments cater to jazz as well as numerous educational institutions such as Julliard, the New School, and the Manhattan School of Music. No matter where jazz music goes, New York City is a like a continual shadow that grows and expands with the ever-changing definition of jazz. New York based musicians like Marcus Strickland, Robert Glasper, Roy Hargrove, Aaron Parks, Esperanza Spalding, and Eric Lewis have continued to carry on the jazz torch, pushing the music in new directions and creating new sounds for future generations to digest.
Jazz Clubs and Venues
New York City is home to some of the finest jazz venues in America and indeed the world. Have only a short amount of time and uncertain where to go? We offer three wonderful tour packages at reasonable prices. Click below to book any of these tours:
New York Nightlife: Dinner & Live Jazz
Jive to live jazz at the famous Blue Note or Swing 46 on a memorable night out in New York City. Your night includes dinner, a night-time drive through Manhattan and round-trip transportation.
Soul Food and Jazz
Take a tour of Harlem, then dine on soul food and see a jazz show at a famous Harlem club. There's no better way to explore the full range of Harlem's diverse ethnic history, music and food!
New York Nightlife: Dinner & Live Jazz at Iridium
Enjoy dinner and live music at the Iridium Jazz Club, with round-trip transportation included. Your personal driver and guide will meet you at your Manhattan hotel to take you to The Iridium Jazz Club, where you'll enjoy live jazz music and a tasty dinner.
Here are some notable and recommended clubs and venues from NYC.com, the New York City Experts:
Blue Note Jazz Club
131 West 3rd Street
New York NY 10012
Located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, the Blue Note typically books popular bands and performers. The club, which has been around since the early 1980s, is a hotspot for tourists but isn’t always frequented by native New Yorkers because of the steep ticket and drink prices. Though the prices are a bit steep, the club offers up a variety of different musical acts as well as the late night groove series on Friday and Saturday nights in which the majority of the music embraces funk, Latin, hip-hop, and other elements outside of the jazz idiom. Unlike many of the other jazz venues in New York City, the Blue Note doesn’t have an open mic night or jam session, which is unappealing for musicians, but the quality of the musical acts they book is top notch and superior to all of the other clubs in the city.
Pluses: Notable musicians, adequate seating
Minuses: Ticket prices, drink prices
Smoke Jazz & Supper Club-Lounge
New York NY 10026
Located in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights, Smoke Jazz Club offers up a different variety of music throughout the week. On Monday nights there’s a jam session, which typically begins around 10:30 after the headliners have played their sets. On Tuesday nights the club caters to fans of B-3 music with different organ and guitar combinations. Weekends at Smoke are usually filled with well-known musical acts that are typically based in and around New York City. Admission prices at Smoke range from $15-$30 with a two drink minimum, depending on the popularity of the band or musician performing that night. The atmosphere is very swank and low key, with a capacity of no more than 60-75 people. The bar and wait staff are always considerate and make patrons feel at home.
Pluses: Intimate atmosphere, drink prices, staff
Iridium Jazz Club
New York NY 10019
Located in Midtown Manhattan, the Iridium Jazz Club is a nice place to hear different kinds of jazz in a laid back setting. Despite its location in chaotic Midtown West, once you enter the club, the hustle and bustle of New York City slowly starts to dissipate with the sound of a few notes. On Monday nights, the creator of the electric guitar Les Paul plays with his trio. Many celebrities and well-known people frequent his performances, which are always electrifying for a man in his nineties. Typically the Iridium will host weeklong engagements by straight ahead jazz performers, while occasionally featuring fusion groups. Some of the buzz has left Iridium since the Mingus Big Band left to go to the Jazz Standard for their weeklies, which were held on Tuesday nights, but the club has managed to regroup and offer up new and refreshing music. Ticket prices for the average show can start at $20 while other shows start at $50. Note: Iridium offers a student discount of 50% with valid school identification for many of their shows.
Pluses: Location, seating
Minuses: Drink prices
55 Christopher Street
New York NY 10014
Greenwich Village is home to many different jazz clubs. The 55 Bar is located beside the historic Stonewall Hotel on the adjacent corner of Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street. Many well-known local and national acts play here on a regular basis. The cover is very reasonable compared to other clubs in the area and the drink prices are also the same. Sometimes the volume inside can be a bit much since the place is small, but some earplugs can cure that issue. The staff is friendly and the bar is very inviting, especially when there is straight-ahead jazz being played. Sometimes the club books funk, fusion, and blues artists, but most of the time it’s a jazz artist or group.
Pluses: Cover charge, drink prices
Minuses: Volume, seating
315 West 44th Street
New York NY 10036
Named after jazz luminary Charlie Parker, Birdland started on 52nd Street back in the heyday of New York’s jazz scene but has since moved further south to Hell’s Kitchen. The environment at the revamped Birdland is very pleasant. This spacious club features a plethora of food items and drinks. Music at the club is top notch when compared to most places, with the focus being straight ahead jazz as well as Latin and fusion. The price for admission is like the Blue Note and other expensive clubs but to the jazz connoisseur Birdland stands out as one of a kind. During the week, you can catch the late Chico O’ Farrill's Latin Band, directed by his son Arturo, is one of the best Latin bands in the world. Other nights include vocal jazz as well as the Birdland Big Band. The environment at Birdland is eclectic in terms of music, which in the end proves to be the most appealing factor about the club.
Pluses: Musical acts, food, table space
Minuses: Food and beverage prices
Fat Cat Billiards
75 Christopher Street
New York NY 10014
Located right off the Christopher Street stop on the 1 train and several blocks from New York University, Fat Cat Billiards boasts the most interesting environment of any jazz club in New York. Once you enter the door, you enter a world of games that would make the nearest five year old kid jump through the ceiling. The club has dozens of pool tables, chess tables, dominos, and shuffle boards all at extremely reasonable prices. If there is a cover, it’s usually never more than three dollars. The musical offerings are always very consistent, with Latin, big band, and straight ahead every night of the week. Another aspect that separates Fat Cat from the rest of the field is their drink prices. They don’t have liquor but they have three-dollar beers as well as cheap wine. Although they don’t serve food, the establishment is located right in the heart of Greenwich Village with food venues everywhere you look. The club also hosts a jam session every night from midnight to four in the morning. No other place in the city has jam sessions like Fat Cat.
Pluses: Cover price, drink prices, environment, location
Minuses: No food or liquor
The Village Vanguard
178 Seventh Avenue South
New York NY 10014
No other jazz club has stood the test of time like the Village Vanguard. Located just a few blocks north of Christopher in New York’s West Village, the club has produced so many live, classic jazz recordings it’s hard to know where to start. One of the most appealing factors about the place is the basic feel of the bar. It’s a comforting feeling to know that the bar hasn’t changed hardly at all since John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis played there fifty years ago. Now in it’s seventy-third year, the bar is small compared to other places but the sheer impact of the venue makes it a must for any jazz lover in New York. The drink prices are reasonable as are the cover prices, though the cover can fluctuate depending on the star level of the musician.
Pluses: Environment, musical acts
Minuses: Seating capacity
Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola
Frederick P. Rose Hall
Jazz at Lincoln Center
West 60th Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10023
When it comes to jazz in New York City, no organization holds it down like JALC. In addition to Rose Hall, the company owns and operates Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, which was named in honor of jazz trumpet legend John “Dizzy” Gillespie. The club features nationally recognized acts usually beginning at 7:30 p.m. with sets lasting around an hour and half. Drinks and food are decently priced but like most jazz venues in New York City it can add up quickly if you like to indulge on food and alcohol. Dizzy’s has a formal layout, with an inviting wait and bar staff. Following the main act, the club also features an after hours act, which performs into the wee hours of the night.
Pluses: Musical acts, environment
Minuses: Food and drink prices
The Jazz Standard
116 East 27th Street
New York, NY 10016
Located downstairs from world-renowned barbecue restaurant Blue Smoke, the Jazz Standard is a step up for good, live jazz music. The club offers a wide assortment of music, from Rolling Stones inspired jazz bands to Grammy-award winning artists. The club’s food selection is top notch, though it can be very pricy to see an event when one includes the set price with food and drinks. On the other hand, the atmosphere is almost worth the price of admission for its’ intimacy and friendly environment. The sound of the club is also a plus as it offers excellent acoustics, which only helps to enhance to the experience of hearing live jazz music.
Pluses: Musical offerings, food, environment
Minuses: Food & drink prices
Smalls Jazz Club
183 West 10th Street
New York NY 10014
The original Smalls Jazz Club was founded in 1993. Unfortunately in the aftermath of 9/11 the club was forced to close, but later reopened at its current location in Greenwich Village. Like Fat Cat, Smalls offers great jazz music for the listener on a budget. But don’t be mistaken. The quality of the music doesn’t diminish just because the price does. Most sets are $20 and with this you receive a token, which is good for a drink, a glass of wine, or half off for more expensive alcohol. The club also offers a jam session after midnight, which lasts until about 4:00 a.m. on an average weeknight. The environment of the club is swank with a touch of the old-school bohemia that was once the norm in Greenwich Village. Waiting in line can be a little long on some nights when there’s a high quality act but it’s worth the wait once you get inside.
Pluses: Musical offerings, food and drink price
Notable Jazz Attractions
The Louis Armstrong House
34-56 107th Street
Corona NY 11368
Trumpeter Louis Armstrong was born and raised in New Orleans but he spent large portions of his later life in his home in Corona, Queens, which has been turned into a museum. The museum offers tours throughout the week for the jazz fan that is interested in Armstrong’s life and how he lived offstage. The museum is run by Queens College in assistance with the New York Department of Cultural Affairs, who are the official owners of the house. The museum is highly recommended for the jazz lover or for the person just getting started in jazz because Louis Armstrong was one of the music’s strongest and most important figures. Note: Louis Armstrong is buried in the Flushing Cemetery, 163-06 46th Avenue, Flushing NY, (718) 359-0100.
The Jazz Museum in Harlem
104 East 126th Street Suite 2D
New York NY 10035
Executive Director Loren Schoenberg and co-director Christian McBride currently helm the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, which is still evolving and will eventually include a performance center as well as a main hall for jazz exhibits. Currently the museum houses many different educational and cultural events at its 126th Street location in Manhattan’s El Barrio (Spanish Harlem). The museum also offers a visitor center, which is open from Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. In the future the museum intends to be a cherished location for jazz in New York City. Until then the museum caters well to the average jazz fan with a room full of photographs, cds, dvds, and other merchandise in their visitor center. In addition, the museum also sponsors a wide variety of outdoor and indoor concerts throughout the year.
Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall
West 60th Street
New York NY 10023
Named after Atlantic Records Vice President and brother of Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun, Nesuhi, the Jazz Hall of Fame at Lincoln Center satisfies the cravings of any jazz lover. The venue opened up in 2004 and is located inside Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall. It features an 18-foot video wall, interactive computer kiosks, and touch-activated virtual plaques that let users explore the deep and rich history of jazz and learn about the museum’s inductees. Like many other newly created exhibits and organizations about jazz in New York, the Hall of Fame is only a small version of what it intends to become in the future.
Webster Ave and East 233rd Street
Bronx, NY 10470
For the morbidly curious jazz fan, all kinds of fun can be had at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. This is the final resting spot for Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Irving Berlin. Although graveyards aren’t the most exciting of all spots for a tourist or a dedicated fan, the cemetery can be an interesting place to reflect on the life of famous jazz musicians. If you’re not too familiar with New York City, the Bronx borough is to the north of Manhattan and easy accessible by subway. Woodlawn cemetery is an adventure that every serious jazz fan should take when spending time in New York City.
Institute of Jazz Studies
John Cotton Dana Library
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
185 University Avenue
Newark New Jersey 07102
The Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers-Newark boasts the largest and most comprehensive jazz library in the world. With thousands of recordings, books, theses, magazines, and other materials, no other music library in the world compares. The Institute’s director is legendary jazz critic-author, Dan Morgenstern, who can usually be found in library at various times during the week. Newark is located about 15 minutes from Midtown Manhattan on NJ Transit (about a 20-minute ride on the PATH train
). Library hours are 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you want to schedule a visit it is highly recommended that you call ahead of time and schedule an appointment so the library can make the necessary accommodations for visitors.
Jazz Mobile offers many different kinds of music, demonstrations, and workshops throughout the year in New York City. During the month of October, the company offers free concerts in Harlem. The company has been in business since 1964, making it one of the city’s oldest and longest running producers of live outdoor jazz events. For more information visit: www.jazzmobile.com
JVC Jazz Festival
The JVC Jazz Festival is the largest and most comprehensive jazz festival in all of New York City. The festival runs from June 15-28th. Past festivals participants have included Lionel Loueke, Hank Jones, Medeski Martin & Wood, Sergio Mendes, The Bad Plus, Bill Frisell, and Joe Lovano among others. One wonderful aspect of the festival is that their events (both free and paid) are held not only in Manhattan but also in Brooklyn and Queens. The festival taps into the wonderful environment of New York City during the summer when people are always exploring the different facets of the city. For more information visit: www.jazz.jvc.com
Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors
In terms of jazz and classical music, Lincoln Center does more than any other organization in the city. During the summer, the organization sponsors a series of free concerts, held in various parts of the city. Featured are many eclectic types of artists including jazz, blues, and Latin performance artists. Past artists have included percussionist Cyro Baptista, violinist Regina Carter, saxophonist/composer Bob Belden, DJ Logic, Anat Cohen, and Dave Brubeck. For more information visit: www.lincolncenter.org.
NYC Winter Jazz Fest
During the cold and long winters in New York City, good music can be something to help the average person, whether a resident or visitor, forget about the weather. The NYC Winter JazzFest, which is held annually in January, features a wealth of diverse jazz musicians at various locations and venues throughout Manhattan. Past performers have included drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, pianist Robert Glasper, saxophonist/clarinetist Don Byron, and pianist Aaron Parks. For more information visit: www.winterjazzfest.com for additional information.
Charlie Parker Jazz Festival
The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival is produced by the City Parks Foundation and takes place at several different parks in Manhattan during the month of August. Past performers have included vocalist Abbey Lincoln, trumpeter Maurice Brown, drummer Chico Hamilton, and pianist Marc Carey. Year after year the festival provides electrifying and diverse jazz talent. For more information visit: www.cityparksfoundation.org
Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival
Now in its’ tenth year, the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival is produced by the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium. The festival runs about two and half weeks, with many different types of symposiums, concerts, and workshops taking place at dozens of different places in Brooklyn. This festival is arguably the longest running jazz festival during the calendar year in New York City, with many artists from old to new gracing stages from Brooklyn Heights to Sunset Park to Bedford-Stuyvesant. Unlike many of the other festivals, which focus primarily on the music, the CBJF focuses on the cultural impact of jazz in the borough and how it has evolved up through the new millennium. For more information visit: www.centralbrooklynjazzconsortium.org