Although we’re a long way from jazz’s 20th century heyday, there are still plenty of places in NYC to get your blues, jazz, and R&B fix that aren’t mad expensive and riddled with Scandinavian tourists. These are our picks, peppered with nods from jazz pianist Danny Fox (who plays around the city with his trio, aptly named the Danny Fox Trio. Check him out!). Jazz is hardly dead here, folks. In fact, it might just be thriving.
The 15 Best Places to Hear Live Jazz in NYC
Best place to see Woody Allen shred a clarinet: Café Carlyle
35 E 76th St, Upper East Side
Guys, turns out Woody Allen has been moonlighting here as a clarinet player in The Eddy David New Orleans Jazz Band every Monday night for over a decade. And he's pretty good at it! It’ll cost you to hear him though, as this part of the hotel is a supper club with a $75+ per person food and beverage minimum. On the other side of the hotel, however, you’ll find Bemelmans Bar, which has live jazz every night for a nominal cover charge. Either way, don't forget your jacket.
Best musician hang: Vodou Bar
95 Halsey St, Bed-Stuy
Although it's popular for crowded late-night DJ dancing on weekends, occasionally there will be live jazz. Neighborhood people do hang out on these nights, but it’s mostly musicians. “It’s a bit insular,” Danny says. So at least you know it's authentic!
Most touristy but worth it: Village Vanguard
178 7th Ave S
If you're determined to check out one of the iconic old-school jazz clubs, let it be this one. "This is the most special one. It hasn’t changed at all, the downstairs hasn't even been updated. It's a classic with tons of history and musicians still aspire to play there," Danny says. "Sunday nights can be more of a musician-y hang so you’ll see more playing. Not necessarily 80-year-old legends, but it's the last night to catch that musician who’s visiting, so people come out."
Best laid-back jam sesh: The Fifth Estate
506 5th Ave, Park Slope
A lot of young musicians come here to jam and hang out, kind of like the jazz equivalent of an open mic night. And you can be the beneficiary of that! There’s a reasonable cover charge, $5 beer-and-a-shot specials Monday through Friday, very little attitude, and a pinball machine, which is weird because those things make a lot of noise.
Best no-frills vibe: Smalls Jazz Club
183 W 10th St, West Village
Trios and quartets play long sessions late into the night. “It’s low key, not a big production,” Danny says.
Best jazz brunch: Smoke Jazz & Supper Club
2751 Broadway, Upper West Side
In a longstanding series, Harlem jazz vocalist Annette St. John and her trio croon to you over top-notch chicken & waffles every Sunday from 11am-4pm. If you don't have a billion dollars to blow at the Rainbow Room, this is your best bet.
Best piano and bass duos: Mezzrow
163 W 10th St, West Village
Like Smalls, it was opened by Mitch Borden and pianist Spike Wilner (in the same space where the legendary Bradley's once resided), but unlike Smalls, shows won’t run into early morning hours. You could advance purchase a seat, but you don’t have to -- walk-ins are welcome.
Best entry-level: Arthur’s Tavern
57 Grove St, West Village
Saucy blues singer Sweet Georgia Brown makes Thursdays and Fridays special with growly versions of songs like "Car Wash," but hear live music (piano, Dixieland, and R&B styles) almost every night of the week, and for no cover charge. The bar draws a great mix of people who have been coming for years and recent grads in fleece Patagonia vests.
Best dancing: Swing 46
349 W 46th St, Hell's Kitchen
For $15, you'll get you a whole night of live band Lindy hopping, jitterbugging, waltzing, foxtrotting, and freestyling, plus a free half-hour dance lesson taught at 9pm by a professional instructor in the event you don’t actually know how to do any of the dances listed above.
Best New Orleans ambiance: St. Mazie
345 Grand St, Williamsburg
It's a bar and restaurant at its core, so you won't be sure what you enjoyed more -- the nightly hot jazz or the the oyster happy hour and bourbon cocktails.
Best village hangout: The 55 Bar
55 Christopher St, West Village
Eschew uppity jazz scenes and opt for the basement bar, a relaxed remnant of NYC’s Prohibition past. The first of the two nightly shows has no cover, but the second, which usually features bigger players, typically won’t run you more than $10.
Best after hours: Mona’s
224 Ave B, Alphabet City
A lot of musicians, young and old, come by this dive on Tuesdays from 11pm-3am to sit in on jam sessions with the house band. “It’s kind of a younger crowd, but some older folks come to check it out,” Danny says.
Best experimental: Korzo
667 5th Ave, South Park Slope
Contemporary original music is the scene here. As Danny says, “It’s a Tuesday night series run by a pianist who lives nearby. Running for awhile, you can always hear pretty adventurous music -- it’s more of a musicians' hang.”
Best bebop: Bill’s Place
148 West 133rd St, Harlem
Every Friday and Saturday, the basement of a Harlem brownstone comes alive with the sounds of the Harlem All Stars and Bill Saxton's saxophone. The BYOB is super small -- definitely make reservations online.
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Carrie Dennis is an associate editor for Thrillist and played the trumpet until eighth grade when she quit because she didn't want to carry it back and forth from lessons. This is one of many deep regrets. Toot at her on Twitter: @CarrrieDennnis.
1. Cafe Carlyle35 E 76th St, New York
2. Vodou Bar95 Halsey St, Brooklyn
3. Village Vanguard178 7th Ave S, New York
4. The Fifth Estate506 5th Ave, Brooklyn
5. Smalls Jazz Club183 W 10th St, New York
6. Smoke Jazz & Supper Club2751 Broadway, New York
7. Mezzrow163 W 10th St, New York
8. Arthur's Tavern57 Grove St, New York
9. Swing 46349 W 46th St, New York
10. Jazz Standard111 E 27th St, New York
11. St. Mazie345 Grand St, Brooklyn
12. The 55 Bar55 Christopher St, New York
13. Mona's224 Avenue B, New York
14. Korzo667 5th Ave, Brooklyn
15. Bill's Place148 W 133rd St, New York
Housed inside the Carlyle Hotel, this jazz institution has long been known for hosting famous musicians like George Feyer and Bobby Short. While the fare is standard American, the atmosphere is anything but typical, with music murals covering the walls, and tuxedoed waiters catering to all your imbibing needs.
This bar and lounge is sometimes a popular (and crowded) late night DJ spot, but sometimes they switch that out in favor of live jazz. On those nights, it is usually occupied by musicians and locals, which is a pretty good sign of quality.
Opened in 1935, this New York jazz institution has played host to the likes of Woody Guthrie and Miles Davis, and continues to be frequented by the best names in folk, blues, and jazz. Though The Vanguard -- as it's locally known -- doesn't serve food, a back bar serves up cocktails to relax you into an evening of soul and saxophone.
The laid-back vibe of this Park Slope bar make it a comfortable place to hang out and catch some live music. The reasonable prices extend from the cover charge to the drinks, with shot specials from Monday-Friday.
Waiting for an hour in line off a busy Greenwich Village corner might not sound ideal, but once inside this intimate jazz club, you'll be glad you were patient. Even if you know nothing about jazz, you'll appreciate the dimly lit, below-ground space, and, depending on the night, you can catch everyone from young, local musicians to established jazz greats like Wynton Marsalis.
The name might say Jazz & Supper, but what you'll really want to check out is Jazz & Brunch. We're talking chicken & waffles and jazz trios every Sunday from 11am - 4pm
This intimate, relaxed lounge in the West Village showcases live jazz musicians in a basement-level space. You don't need to reserve a seat for the performances, but you may want to as Mezzrow only seats around 30 at its marble tabletops. Order drinks and simple bites from the Prohibition-era mahogany bar and settle into a seat for unamplified music, mainly from piano and bass duos. The place is run by musicians for musicians, and you're sure to get an old-school jazz experience.
This West Village jazz club has been bustling since it first opened in the 1930s. There’s no cover but there is a two-drink minimum, so settle in at the long wooden bar and get ready for a night of live music that usually varies between jazz, blues, and New Orleans-style Dixieland.
Just for paying the $15 cover charge, you can spend the whole night dancing away. And if you're not a confident dancer, plan to get there just in time for the 9pm dance lesson -- it's free with entry.
Good music and good food (courtesy of Blue Smoke BBQ) characterize this Flatiron jazz venue, which is one of the biggest in the city.
Equal parts restaurant and bar, St. Mazie brings a New Orleans vibe to Brooklyn with oysters, bourbon cocktails, and live jazz. The downstairs supper club serves upscale comfort food among reclaimed wood accents and tea lights, and the overgrown garden out back is perfect for enjoying drinks and music -- particularly on Flamenco Fridays.
This basement bar and music club is wholeheartedly devoted to showcasing the best jazz and blues in the city. It's a charming Prohibition-era dive bar hosting two live shows a night, seven days a week. The early show doesn't have a cover charge, but the late show will cost you $10 -- which is modest in comparison to other jazz bars in the city.
The younger crowd at this Alphabet City dive gets mixed in with some older folks on Tuesday nights, when the house band plays from 11pm - 3am.
This modern restaurant serves European style comfort foods and burgers just like Korzo Haus, and brings in eclectic, contemporary, music acts on Tuesday nights.