Bebop or Be Square: NYC Jazz Clubs
by Andrew Clayman, 08/03/2011
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There's no doubt that New York City is where jazz music found its stride: Miles Davis rose to fame in bebop clubs in the '40s; Billie Holiday made hearts melt in Harlem; and Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker wailed on the trumpet and saxophone, respectively. Many of NYC's iconic jazz clubs remain as vibrant as ever, and they've been joined by dozens of newer clubs that carry on the tradition of this uniquely American art form. Just as music aficionados once made pilgrimages to New York to see Parker at Birdland or John Coltrane at the Village Vanguard, today's jazz fan has tons of options to catch tomorrow's legends—whose genres range from Latin jazz to soul to fusion and countless more subgenres—cutting their teeth onstage every night of the week.
To help you find your way, check out this guide to some of the City's must-visit jazz venues—from higher-priced fancy spots to casual, more affordable places. Showtimes and cover charges can vary from night to night, so call ahead. You dig?
178 Seventh Ave. South, 212-255-4037, West Village, Manhattan
Whether you're talking history, acoustics or big-name performers, the Vanguard has it all. Opened in 1935, the club has maintained its 123-seat-capacity basement—famous for its great sound, often credited to the room's triangular shape. John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Wynton Marsalis all recorded legendary live albums at this music mecca, a must-visit for every jazz fan. Tickets $25 per set ($20 for students with valid ID Sunday through Thursday for second set); one-drink minimum; showtimes 9pm and 11pm daily.
131 W. 3rd St., 212-475-8592, Greenwich Village, Manhattan
While it doesn't boast the Vanguard's longevity, Blue Note (established in 1981) certainly stands up to the legendary space in terms of quality. Some of the top performers on the planet tread a path through this classy institution—Grammy Award–winning jazz pianist and composer Chick Corea as well as Grammy Award–nominated trumpeter and composer Chris Botti, for example, have both played here. Be sure to arrive sooner, not later, as seating here is first come, first served. Tickets $20–$65 per set, $10 for Late Night Groove Series; showtimes 8pm and 10:30pm daily, plus 12:30am on Friday and Saturday nights, 12:30pm and 2:30pm jazz brunch on Sunday.
315 W. 44th St., 212-581-3080, Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
Named for the "Bird" himself—revered saxophonist Charlie Parker—Birdland has gone through several incarnations since its inception more than 60 years ago. From Midtown West to Morningside Heights to its current spacious location in Hell's Kitchen, the club's tagline—"the jazz corner of the world," coined by Parker—still rings true. Diana Krall, Pat Metheny, Dave Brubeck and many more have graced the stage here. Attention theatergoers: after your Broadway show, stop by Birdland and present same-day ticket stubs Sunday through Thursday for half-priced bar admission to the 11pm show. Tickets $20–$50 per set; $10 food/drink minimum at a table, complimentary drink at the bar with payment of the music charge; showtimes 8:30pm and 11pm daily.
Jazz at Lincoln Center
33 W. 60th St., 212-258-9800, Upper West Side, Manhattan
A fancy spot to hear everything from Afro-Cuban pianists to jazz flutists to unexpected guests like folk-rock singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega and "Don't Worry, Be Happy" singer Bobby McFerrin, Jazz at Lincoln Center is home to three distinct venues: the 1,233-capacity Rose Theater, which typically hosts major national acts; The Allen Room, which seats 427 to 467 guests and whose large floor-to-ceiling glass window overlooks Columbus Circle; and its smallest, most intimate spot, Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, with seating for 80 to 140 people. Prices and showtimes vary among venues.
1650 Broadway, 212-582-2121, Midtown West, Manhattan
Another westside jewel is the new and improved Iridium, where late guitar legend Les Paul enjoyed his final weekly residency. Monday is now Les Paul Guitar Tribute night at the club, and the rest of the week features some of the best in classic and modern jazz, as well as blues and R&B. Tickets $20–$40 per set (student discounts available); $10–$15 food/drink minimum; showtimes 8pm and 10pm daily except Tuesday at 7pm, 9pm and 11pm.
116 E. 27th St., 212-576-2232, Gramercy, Manhattan
Situated just below Danny Meyer's acclaimed barbecue joint Blue Smoke, Jazz Standard allows guests to order chili-crusted calamari or a pulled-pork platter directly from the music haven's upstairs neighbor. And that's just the food. Jazz lovers flock here for the venue's fantastic sight lines and impressive lineups. Mingus Mondays are a favorite, when the Mingus Big Band, Orchestra or Dynasty (in rotating weeks) tackles the careening rhythms of the late bass-master Charles Mingus. Tickets $20–$30 per set; showtimes 7:30pm and 9:30pm daily, plus 11:30pm on Friday and Saturday.
Smoke Jazz & Supper Club
2751 Broadway, 212-864-6662, Morningside Heights, Manhattan
In the same space near Columbia University that formerly housed Augie's Jazz Bar, Smoke has an ultra-intimate setting (the room seats about 50) and delivers a first-class jazz experience at a fair price, with free weekend-brunch shows and no cover charge or food/drink minimum for the 11:30pm show on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. A prix-fixe dinner menu is available Sunday through Thursday until midnight, at which time you can order from a late-night menu until closing—giving you the perfect excuse to sample chef Patricia Williams' artful food. Prepare to get cozy with your companions and other patrons, as the tables are a tight squeeze. The good news? You'll feel like you're sitting with the band as well. Tickets $30–$35 (weekend shows only); $10–$20 food/drink minimum; showtimes vary, 11:30am, 1pm and 3pm jazz brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
183 W. 10th St., 212-252-5091, West Village, Manhattan
A throwback to the comfy, communal jazz clubs of yesteryear, Smalls first opened in 1993 and recently returned from a brief hiatus to regain its place as one of New York City's best destinations for up-and-coming acts. An eclectic collection of stools, wooden chairs and tattered couches lend the feel of a jazz jam session in a friend's basement. Stop by after work—20 bucks gets you in for as long as your heart desires. Tickets $20 ($10 after hours); first show at 7:30pm, second show at 9pm, 9:30pm, 10pm or 10:30pm, jam sessions at midnight or later daily.
288 Lenox Ave., 212-427-0253, Harlem, Manhattan
The renovated Zebra Room at this landmark Harlem club transports visitors back to the days when Billie Holiday sang here and Langston Hughes was a regular. Lenox Lounge's status as a jazz institution makes this club a must-visit destination. Tickets $10–$20; $16 drink minimum; showtimes 8:30pm, 10:30pm and midnight on Friday and Saturday, 7pm on Sunday, 9:30pm on Monday and 8pm Tuesday through Thursday.
57 Grove St., 212-675-6879, West Village, Manhattan
One of the oldest continuously operating jazz clubs in New York City, Arthur's no longer hosts the Charlie Parkers of the world—but its house bands (both jazz and R&B) have become local legends, making this West Village institution one of the best values in the City. For more than 40 years, Mondays at Arthur's have meant the Grove Street Stompers Dixieland Jazz Band, and the six-piece combo shows no signs of slowing down. No cover; two-drink minimum; showtimes 7pm and 10pm daily.