NYC Jazz Clubs: Everything You Need To Know

The city that never sleeps is bursting with entertainment. Music is a huge part of the scene and venues catering to every music genre can be discovered in all corners of the city. One of the oldest, and most popular, clubs within NYC are the notorious jazz clubs.

At any time of the day, or night. 365 days a year New Yorkers can find the perfect Jazz club to keep them entertained until the sun comes up. Smokey, sultry and atmospheric, whilst still welcoming like an old friend, nowhere else in the world does a Jazz club quite like the Jazz clubs NYC.

New York City is arguably the Jazz capital of the world. Some of the most iconic and influential clubs could be found in the big apple during the epic jazz era, and many still live on today.

The city also boasts legends of the jazz world, with stars such as Buddy Rich born and raised in the city. Other well known jazz super stars, such as Duke Ellington found the city later in life spending a great deal of time here absorbing the big apple, and using its eclectic and vibrant atmosphere as inspiration for their jazz music.

Jazz Clubs NYC

Top Ten Jazz Clubs NYC

The rise of jazz clubs NYC started way back in the 1920s. During this time the genre really started to take off and gain memento with New Yorkers. This steadily rose until the 1940s and 1950s. At this point the jazz scene exploded.

These are decades that jazz fever really started to take over, as mainstream jazz and rat pack jazz pop took over the states. This era would pave the way for future jazz music and musicians.

Jazz has not stopped or slowed down since the golden era and nor has the infamous jazz clubs NYC.

Today clubs offer performances by current jazz legends, along with top rated talent of tomorrow. All offer their own original music and also give fans throw back tributes in dedication to the jazz royalty who are no longer with us. but will never forgotten in the world of jazz.

No visit to New York would be complete without indulging in the drinks, dinner and entertainment on offer within jazz clubs NYC. On your next night out in the city make jazz your priority and we promise you won’t regret Lose yourself in the smooth music and enjoy those jazz rhythms.

Whether you are a long time jazz fan. or perhaps new to the genre and want to learn more, there are a few jazz club NYC hot spots not to be missed. Here is our top ten jazz clubs NYC.

Neon sign of a Jazz Club in NYC
Neon sign of a Jazz Club in NYC

Village Vanguard

We are kicking off our top ten jazz clubs NYC with the oldest establishment in town. Village Vanguard was opened in 1935 by famous jazz promoter and enthusiast Mr Max Gordon.

Over its many years in the business Village Vanguard has hosted numerous superstars and has been the venue for many critically acclaimed live albums including A Night At the Vanguard by Kenny Burrell.

An iconic jazz landmark that has stood the test of time the Village Vangaurd lives on today and welcomes jazz fans old and young.

55 Bar

In the very heart of Greenwich Village sits 55 Bar. an iconic gem of the New York City jazz scene.

This spot is small, cosy and authentic. No show stopper from the outside you could be forgiven for not noticing 55 as you stroll along the sidewalk. However once inside a true haven of jazz awaits you.

Top tip for 55 Bar is to arrive early in the evening, or book ahead f you wish to have a seated area for your evening of jazz. As stated it is a smaller spot and very popular so can get crowded especially on a Saturday evening.

Blue Note

Blue Note Jazz Club website homepage
Blue Note Jazz Club website homepage.

Blue Note jazz club began its journey in New York City in 1981. After years of demonstrating a true love of jazz and dedication to keeping jazz music alive. Blue Note now boasts international venues around the world including Tokyo. Bejing and Rio. It may now be a global sensation but New York City is where it all began for the Blue Note brand and nothing beats an evening in the original establishment.

Blue Note is also passionate about encouraging and supporting local musicians and often show cases up and coming jazz talent.

Smalls Jazz Club

Slightly different from other clubs Smalls is a not for profit organisation. Their mission is to support the jazz community by subsidising venues, recording projects and performances, including tours.

With support from Smalls the world of jazz can keep going through difficult times. By visiting Smalls not only are you treating yourself to drinks, dinner and fine jazz but you are also contributing to something bigger and better which could make a difference to the lives and careers of many jazz musicians.

Cellar Dog (Formerly Fat Cat)

An NYC hidden gem. The basement club formerly known as Fat Cat lives to see another day with a new name and re branding. Fans of Fat Cat fear not. although the name is new the traditional jazz bar decor, vibes and atmosphere remain, ensuring Cellar Dog is still a great jazz club spot.

Not as famous or historic as some of its competitors Cellar Dog is relatively new to the jazz club NYC scene. However it stays true to the roots of jazz with traditional aesthetic and a casual vibe.

Smoke Jazz and Supper Club

Linked to Smoke Session Records. Smoke Jazz and Supper Club is a modern day jazz club offering. Situated in upper west side the venue now known as Smoke was previously a famous and iconic jazz bar named Augie’s.

Smoke’s founder and owner was a regular at Augie’s and openly admits that the previous establishment was the inspiration for his own jazz club. Smoke has a more modern feel than other jazz clubs and is a great evening out on the upper west side.

Bird land

The talented jazz musician Charlie Parker was nicknamed Bird and this is where the historic and influential jazz club known as Birdland gets its name from. Birdland opened in 1949 and ever since has been a huge part of the New York jazz community.

Perhaps Birdland can boast the most prestigious performances over the years with legends such as Charlie Parker. Miles Davis and Stan Getz, to name just a few. all delivering epic performances upon the Birdland stage.

During the 1940s and 1950s the performers were not the only famous faces in the house, as this was a well-known hot spot for celebrity spotting with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra becoming regular and loyal customers. Steeped in history this is a great venue to enjoy and appreciate true jazz nostalgia.

Dizzy’s Club

Dizzy's Club website homepage
Dizzy’s Club website homepage.

Not your typical sidewalk or basement venue. Dizzy’s club is situated several stories high within the Lincoln Centre giving panoramic views of New York city whilst you enjoy some jazz delights.

Dizzy’s club literally stands out from the crowd! Live performances are every evening with stars from Jazz. Blues and Swing world ready to entertain. Another modern twist on the classic jazz bar set up.

St Mazie

Looking at any list of best jazz clubs NYC and you will find that the most famous, or sought after hot spots, sit within the dazzling and bustling Manhattan district.

However true jazz fans know that Brooklyn has a huge offering when it comes to jazz and talented musicians. With many stars of yesterday starting their jazz journey within Brooklyn this district is stepped in jazz culture and history.

St Mazie is a great example of Brooklyn jazz culture. The jazz bar and restaurant is classically decorated and dimly lit for that authentic jazz club NYC feel. Whilst the secret garden area offers a modern and contemporary vibe bringing this jazz bar into the 21 st century.

Shapeshifter Lab

Shapeshifter Lab is another Brooklyn gem. This venue is dedicated to show casing and supporting jazz stars of the future. Making Shapeshifter Lab a great spot for checking out the jazz talent of tomorrow and being one of the first to see and enjoy some rising stars.

Shapeshifter Lab defiantly has a more casual and relaxed vibe than other jazz bars and prides itself on its inclusivity of performers and clientele.

What club in New York was the most famous jazz clubs?

Jazz musicians performing in a club
Jazz musicians performing in a club.

Our top ten jazz clubs NYC is just a taster of the fine establishments that are on offer for jazz fans in the city that never sleeps. New York was. and still is. bursting with venues specialising in the jazz genre and this is why it is arguably the jazz capital of the world.

The reputation of New York’s jazz scene was built upon the great and famous clubs of the golden jazz era. Some clubs of the past saw short lived fame and success, whist others stood and lasted the test of time.

Many clubs gained fame and notoriety from live session albums and radio broadcasts. This resulted in jazz fans traveling from far and wide just to experience the New York jazz scene in its prime.

There were many factors contributing to how famous a jazz club became but the two following aspects played a huge part in making or breaking a club:

  1. Fame and popularity of the club performers.
  2. Fame and popularity of the club guests

Some clubs are famous for supporting and encouraging jazz legends from the very start of their impressive careers. Show casing their musical work and talent before they became household names and actively contributing to their success.

Others secured regular performances from stars of the time ensuring that they were famous for sell out success. Village Vanguard is famous for many performances including live albums which were recorded in the club.

Many jazz greats have a live at the Vanguard album including Bill Evans and John Coltrane. cementing Vanguards fame in the New York jazz club scene.

Other jazz clubs not only boasted sought after performers but also had regular, famous clientele too. The iconic Birdland club had regular starr customers including the legendary Frank Sinartra and movie star Marilyn Monroe. Birdland has claimed its place in Jazz club history by being THE hot spot for jazz fans stars of the 1950s and 1960s.

Both Village Vanguard and Birdland are arguably two of the most famous and iconic New York City jazz clubs and both are still operating today. However one of the most famous classic NYC jazz clubs of all time closed its doors for the final time back in the 1960s. Gone but never forgotten, the memory of The Famous Door lives on.

The Famous Door

Portrait of Jack  Lesberg and Max Kaminsky performing in Famous Door, NYC.
Portrait of Jack Lesberg and Max Kaminsky performing in Famous Door, NYC.

The Famous Door could be found at 35 West 52nd Street Manhattan. First opened backed in 1935 this club earned its place and status in the world of jazz during its (on and off) thirty years of business.

Lennie Hayton. a popular radio bandleader of the time was instrumental in making The Famous Door popular as he was active in the support and promotion of the club both prior and during the opening period.

The club got off to an epic start with Jenny Dorsey. Glen Miller and Louis Prima all performing on stage during the clubs very first opening night. During the early days of operation potential and passing customers found their curiosity drawn to a door visible from outside which had been signed by visiting celebrities of the time.

Expert Tip: The door was effectively a giant autograph of many. And so this famous door literally gave this jazz club its name. Some came for the music, and some came to spot movie and music stars or even just their autograph.

The Famous Door had many great performers in the early days Bunny Berigan. Bobby Hackett. Billie Holiday, and Red Norvo. These popular names simply increased the demand for tickets and contributed in establishing its reputation as one of the most famous and iconic jazz clubs in New York City at the time.

Although famous, popular and successful on the surface, financial problems soon followed and the club was forced to close its doors in 1936. just over a year after its grand opening.

However this was most not the end of The Famous Door. The super club reopened numerous times over the years, each time gaining more memento and fans. During the late 1930s the clubs fame spread beyond the city as The Famous Door became the venue of a regular live jazz radio broadcast. The final closure came in the 1960s.

The club has not been forgotten and the name lives on as several jazz establishments around the world have copied Famous Door name. The most well known one in the jazz district of New Orleans.

What do you wear to a jazz club in NYC?

Jazz band performing in a club
Jazz band performing in a club.

Fashion was a huge part of the jazz club scene back in the day. Particular during the rat pack jazz and mainstream era of the 1940s and 1950s. During this time it was all about appearing stylish, dapper and well groomed.

Both male performers and customers would be dressed in sharp suits with coordinating belts and braces. A pinstripe suit was a popular style. Finally a smart hat and overcoat for traveling to and from the venue would finish this polished look.

Ladies meanwhile would equally put stylish effort into their jazz club outfits. Evening style dresses, statement jewellery and fur coats or shrugs would not have been out of place for a jazz club evening.

Expert Tip: Today the feel of most jazz clubs is much more relaxed. There are no set rules and usually no particular dress code one needs to follow. Its more about being smart casual and comfortable.

It also very much depends on your plans before and after visiting the jazz club. Whilst you can never go wrong with a sharp suit, or a little black dress, you could still feel at ease and fit right in if wearing something less formal and more relaxed such as tailored trousers and a sweater.

Jazz Clubs NYC

Jazz clubs NYC have played a pivotal and influential partin the both the history of jazz music, and the success of many jazz artists.

The jazz scene of New York is still well and truly alive today with older club legends and new modern contributions. Both aspiring jazz musicians and jazz fans will get a great deal out of a jazz themed evening out in New York City.

Do you have a question about jazz clubs NYC? We would love you to ask us in the comments. We never tire of receiving and reading all your great comments and questions so please don’t be shy. We would love to hear all about your own personal recommendations and experiences of jazz clubs NYC.

Which clubs have you been to? Would you go again, and why? Do you have a favourite club that is missing from our top ten list? If yes please let us know in the comments.

About Jayden Buckley

Hi, my name is Jayden and I am author/editor for PlayTheTunes. I remember the first time I hopped on the drums, I was hooked. Music has played an enormous part of my life, and I'm honored I get to share my experiences with you!