In search of the best New York Jazz clubs? We asked 50+ pro musicians on the scene for their tips on the coolest NYC jazz venues in 2023. From swing and vocal jazz to fusion and free, read on for the top recommendations…
In many ways, New York City is the centre of the jazz world.
And, as such, NYC jazz clubs, bars & venues provide a place where jazz fans and musicians alike can hear some of the best music of the day. From living legends to the stars of tomorrow – and everything in between – this city has it all!
So whether you’re a musician preparing to make the pilgrimage, or a fan looking to check out some amazing music, we’ve compiled this list of some of the best NYC jazz clubs and venues as part of our collection of jazz clubs and festivals around the world.
It’s not a usual ‘best of’ list though: we’ve asked a bunch of New York-based musicians for their help in deciding which clubs should be here – as well as getting extra input on the style of each venue as quotes.
Big thanks to more than 60 jazz musicians who contributed, some of whom you’ll find quoted in this article with their top tips.
The original version of this legendary New York jazz club opened in 1949 and the great Charlie Parker was the headliner – which may explain where the inspiration for the club’s name comes from.
Aside from this bebop pioneer, the past bookings read like a who’s who of jazz history: Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bud Powell, Stan Getz, Lester Young, Erroll Garner…
The 2nd iteration of Birdland opened in 1986 on the Upper West Side before relocating to it’s current premises in Midtown, where it continues to welcome the modern day jazz greats – as well as jazz fans and musicians from around the world who make the pilgrimage to this piece of NYC jazz history.
Approximate capacity: 200 (main room) 100 (downstairs theatre) Booking style: Singers, contemporary swing, latin Visit Birdland jazz club via Birdlandjazz.com
Established in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1981, the Blue Note is possibly one of the biggest and most legendary ‘brands’ in jazz.
Alongside the flagship Blue Note New York is a portfolio of clubs which includes Milan, Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Napa, Nagoya & Hawaii.
Many of the biggest names in American jazz have performed at the club – Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Joe Lovano and John Scofield to name just a few – and, like it’s counterpart Ronnie Scott’s in London, it often welcomes celebrity musicians as on-stage guests and patrons.
Alongside these artists, though, it provides a platform for some of the many killer up-and-coming musicians on the New York scene.
Approximate capacity: 200
Recent bookings: Ron Carter, John Scofield, Marcus Miller, Michel Camilo
Visit Blue Note jazz club via bluenotejazz.com
An intimate jazz club in the heart of New York City institution The Lincoln Center, Dizzy’s jazz club runs its popular late show alongside the traditional sets.
Trumpeter, composer & educator Wynton Marsalis is the artistic director of Jazz at the Lincoln Center and, as such, the club welcomes some of the best rising stars from the world of jazz – as well as some of the modern-day greats.
Recently-departed jazz singing legend Tony Bennett hailed Dizzy’s as “the best jazz room in the city” – something which is on display 7 days a week.
Approximate capacity: 140
Recent bookings: Helen Sung, Bobby Watson, Melissa Aldana, Dave Liebman
Visit Dizzy’s via jazz.org
Cellar Dog (formerly Fat Cat)
I don’t know about you, but the chance to play ping pong, pool and shuffle (I had to have that one explained too) until 4am, whilst listening to some of the best New York jazz musicians jam, sounds like a pretty good night out.
That’s exactly what you can do at the West Village hangout Cellar Dog.
Most evenings there are 2 sets from 2 different bands (usually around 6/7pm and 9pm) from local NYC-based players followed by a marathon jam session.
If the name is new to you, that’s because this venue was known as Fat Cat until July 2021!
Sample bookings: Erik Robert Jacobson, Kyoko Oyobe Quartet, Nicole Glover Trio, John Benitez Quartet
Check it out via www.cellardog.net
SMOKE Jazz Club
Located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side at the junction of Broadway and 106th Street (aka Duke Ellington Boulevard), SMOKE is one of the most popular NYC jazz clubs.
Renowned for offering top-notch programming of accessible, timeless jazz featuring legendary performers, modern masters and rising stars, SMOKE features a candlelit dining room, noted acoustics, and classic American cuisine.
#1 Jazz Club in New York City” – Secret NYC
Approximate capacity: Main room: 80 seated people; Lounge: 20 seated people
Recent bookings: George Coleman, Orrin Evans, Chris Potter, Al Foster, Nicholas Payton, Mary Stallings, Renee Rosnes, and more.
Check our interview with Smoke Jazz Club co-owner Paul Stache.
Opened in 1994, Smalls provided a valuable platform for the new generation of jazz musicians coming out of New York in the 90s: Omer Avital, Peter Bernstein, Avishai Cohen, Ari Hoenig, Jason Lindner, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner…
In fact, we did an interview with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel who talked about it: “Having a weekly gig at Smalls in New York every Tuesday in the 90’s with my own band really helped me develop to the point where international presenters and industry people became aware of me.
The word spread about our night and we started getting offers for jazz festivals in Europe and when the lines were always down the block and around the corner, thats when I started getting interest from the labels and eventually got signed…”
Aside from the live shows, this NYC jazz club has built up an incredible archive of more than 16,000 recorded gigs, meaning you can watch many of the great shows there online.
Approximate capacity: 75
Visit Smalls: smallslive.com
The Jazz Gallery
Founded in 1995 by Dale Fitzgerald, vocalist Lezlie Harrison, and trumpeter Roy Hargrove, The Jazz Gallery is an important fixture on the NYC jazz scene.
It serves as a place for the youngest generation of emerging players to collaborate, create and perform – as well as a venue for some of the most famous musicians in jazz.
No fewer than 12 Thelonious Monk Competition winners performed at The Jazz Gallery in their early careers, and the club was hailed by the New York Times as “the most imaginatively booked jazz club in New York” (NY Times).
The Jazz Gallery is open 4+ nights per week, 48 weeks per year, presenting more than 400 events to an annual audience of 17,000.
Approximate capacity: 70
Located in Tarrytown, just a short train ride away from the Grand Central station, this New York jazz club describes themselves as a community held together by the artistry of jazz musicians and their patrons’ love of live music.
Recently celebrating it’s 5th birthday, it was opened in 2017 with a performance by the legendary Roy Hargrove Quintet.
In addition, at the Jazz Forum, there is a rotating exhibit of local and regional artists in the club space, available for sale. Proceeds go to the artists and Jazz Forum Arts, the not-for-profit organisation that runs the club.
“This is one of the greatest jazz clubs in the world. Everywhere your eye lights is something beautiful to look at. And the food is terrific.” – Bill Charlap, Grammy award-winning pianist
Approximate capacity: Main room: 85 people; Lounge: 15 people
Recent bookings: Bill Charlap, Joe Lovano, Eliane Elias, Samara Joy
Visit Jazz Forum NYC: jazzforumarts.org
55 Bar (now closed)
Another Greenwich village gem, the 55 jazz bar in NYC was open for more than 100 years (!!) until its recent closurer, describing itself as “a prohibition era dive bar with incredible live Jazz, Funk & Blues nightly.”
Don’t let the ‘prohibition’ tagline fool you into thinking of retro jazz and swing… this underground club hosted some of the most innovative names in modern jazz in a super intimate space.
Approximate capacity: 75
Check it out via 55bar.com
Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 3)
Of course, there’s a stage 1 and stage 2 at this venue, but we wanted to focus on Rockwood Music Hall stage 3, which is an intimate, underground jazz club-style venue.
Based on the Lower East Side of Manhattan since 2005, it’s provided an early opportunity for many rising stars in all different genres, including jazz, to perform in New York City.
Approximate capacity: 64
Visit via rockwoodmusichall.com
Mezzrow Jazz Club
Named after Milton ‘Mezz’ Mezzro – a jazz clarinettist on the 1920’s Chicago jazz scene – this Greenwich Village club is described by the owners as a “jazz venue, a listening room and lounge.”
As part of its endorsement from the Steinway Piano Company, it has a full size grand piano, meaning it can feature the jazz piano greats in style.
“A great intimate listening space. Excellent room for hearing piano trios as well as other small groups. Owned and run by the people who run Smalls. A great club.” – Nat Janoff, NYC jazz guitarist
Approximate capacity: 60
Visit via mezzrow.com
Started in 2002 by two French expats before Brooklyn jazz made it’s name on the world scene, Barbès has presented over 18,000 events since its opening.
Originally opened simply to provide a space and a community for artists and musicians of all genres who needed a Manhattan alternative, it’s gone on to be hailed as “one of the ten best jazz clubs in the country” by Playboy magazine.
With a focus on residencies, it’s a great opportunity to catch some cutting edge new music in New York from a mix of well-known and up-and-coming names.
As fan Stefan Michaud noted in the comments section here: “The music is in the back room, separated from the bar, and audiences are serious and respectful… the bookings are incredibly varied and eclectic. There’s something for every taste to be found there.”
Another Brooklyn-based gem, Ibeam is a member owned and operated performance and rehearsal space in the Gowanus borough of NYC, which programmes plenty of experimental and free jazz, alongside other styles of music.
As the organisers note: “our mission is to foster a community of innovative and creative musicians in a comfortable and affordable environment.”
On top of a cutting edge music programme, they have a killer set up for musicians, with a concert-size Schimmel grand piano taking centre-stage.
“The sound of the cubelike room is far more precise than anything you’d ever hear in a bar, or at most stages around the city. Without trying, you’ll hear the music closely.” – Ben Ratliff (NY TIMES)
The Village Vanguard
Opened in 1935 by Max Gordon, The Village Vanguard is the oldest of all the NYC jazz clubs still operating.
It’s intimate room has hosted the real legends in jazz history, including – to name just a few – Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis & John Coltrane.
On top of that, many legendary live albums have been recorded in this most legendary of NYC jazz clubs, as we covered in our round up of 10 essential Live at the Village Vanguard albums.
“Go, you will be glad you did! Monday night is big band night – the players are top musicians in New York and the chairs in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra are handed down over the years” – Gary Brocks, NYC-based jazz singer & trombonist
Approximate capacity: 120
Recent bookings: John Zorn, Donny McCaslin, Peter Bernstein, Jakob Bro
Check it out via villagevanguard.com
Opened in 2016, Cafe Erzulie is a hidden neighbourhood gem tucked along an unassuming street near the bustling Myrtle Broadway subway stop in Brooklyn.
The cafe is named after the the Haitian Voodoo spirit of love, beauty and dance, and like the spirit herself, the cafe comes in many forms.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays they open their lush garden to the public for free jazz concerts featuring multi-generation talent from around the block and around the world.
The crowd is young, diverse and vibrantly engaged in every show. Come the weekend, they transform into a nightclub sporting parties and DJs playing everything from Hip-Hop, R&B and Soul to Afrobeats and Dancehall.
For the jazz fan, get there early on Wednesdays & Thursdays as seats and tables fill up on a first-come-first-serve basis. You’ll also be able to order delicious Haitian bites at every show!
Approximate capacity: 150 (garden) 150 (inside)
Booking Style: Contemporary, Brass forward, Latin and Singers.
Check out cafeerzulie.com to see all the shows they’ve got coming up.
Thanks for checking out this guide to some of the great jazz clubs that New York City has to offer. Please feel free to share your own tips in the comments section here…
Looking for more great jazz venues around the world? Check out our clubs & festivals articles here.
Are you a New York jazz musician looking to get a new album together? Check out our pick of 8 of the best NYC recording studios.