Flappers, Gangsters & Jazz, Oh My!
The Best Jazz Clubs in New York
What is The Jazz Age?
It’s a term created in the 1920s by writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and, although New York City is now considered the center of jazz, that wasn’t always so. In fact, most of The Jazz Age took place in Chicago (hence, the musical play, Chicago) and, before that, it was New Orleans.
So, what exactly is the Jazz Age? The Jazz Age is marked by flappers, speakeasies and the right of women to vote. Flappers were young, independent women who defied tradition by engaging in smoking, drinking, and dancing–things that only men were allowed to do. Eventually, it moved to New York with the Harlem Renaissance and places like The Cotton Club, which can take you back to the opulence of the 20s, when it seemed that everyone had money.
“Jazz and blues have a deep history in this city, what with famous jazz musicians like Billie Holiday, Etta Jones, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Frank Sinatra, said Blair Nicole of TopView, the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus. “When you go to jazz clubs today, you’re instantly transported back in time to the grandeur of the 20s and places like Harlem’s Cotton Club and Lenox Lounge.” Here’s a list of some venues & clubs you should not miss when visiting New York.
• Birdland Jazz Club
The original Birdland, one of the jazz pioneers, was located on 52nd Street in Broadway where Charlie Parker who was nicknamed Yardbird was the headline performer. Shows were held there on an almost nightly basis from December 1949 to 1965. Parker along with fellow musician Dizzy Gillespie who may have given Parker another nickname, Bird, and who created the bebop style of music.
While the original club’s location was abandoned, you can visit Birdland at 314 West 44th Street in the Theater District where great jazz musicians still perform regularly.
• Iridium Jazz Club
Jazz music lovers have been going to the Iridium Jazz Club since it opened in 1991. Les Paul who invented the iconic Les Paul guitar used to play in this below-ground Times Square venue every Monday night, and the club still holds Monday night jazz programs in his honour. Live music happens here every night of the week with most sets lasting a little over an hour. It’d moved a little uptown to 1650 Broadway.
• Jazz Standard
Fans of jazz have been going to Jazz Standard in the Flatiron district since this jazz club opened in 1995. Over the years, it has seen many recordings made here. The Mingus Big Band who won a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album band performs here regularly. This venue is located under Blue Smoke, an outstanding barbecue house, and you can eat their meals while listening to great jazz music by candlelight. 116 E. 27th St.
• Fat Cat Jazz Club
You will feel like you have stepped into a 1970s-era pool hall when you visit Fat Cat Jazz Club in the West Village. This is the type of place where everyone knows your name even if you have never been there before. Challenge your friends to a game of nine-ball or Scrabble because the diverse crowd welcomes both. Head to this venue late at night as Juilliard School students often play jazz music here at about 2 am. 75 Christopher St.
• Jazz Gallery
Jazz Gallery is a non-profit just off Broadway is dedicated to helping new musicians get started in the jazz industry. It was started in 1995 by Dale Fitzgerald, Lezlie Harrison and Roy Hargrove. Musicians from around the world are regularly invited to take up residence in this building’s welcoming atmosphere. Open just three nights a week, many experienced jazz musicians are active in mentoring at this facility. 1160 Broadway.
• Blue Note Jazz Club
The Blue Note Jazz Club was founded in 1981 by Danny Bensusan in Greenwich Village, and it is one of the most respected jazz venues in the world. The company also has locations in Japan and Italy. On any given night, musical legends are often invited onstage to perform alongside up-and-coming musicians. Some of the best shows at this venue start at 12:30 am. For a special treat, check out their Sunday brunch. 131 W. 3rd St.
Inside the Blue Note Jazz Club video Kenny Hsiao
• Jazz at Lincoln Center
When Freddie Keppard introduced New York City to jazz in 1915, he was part of a vaudeville lineup, but the world of jazz has come a long way since then. Over 20 different jazz programs including radio programs, residencies, high school jazz competitions and live performances are supported by Lincoln Center each year. Jazz at Lincoln Center consists of three different musical venues located south of the main building. Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at the Frederick P. Rose Theater is one of the most intimate jazz venues to enjoy a concert in New York City.
We’re a long way from the Jazz Era of the 1920s, but jazz is still very much alive in NYC. With so many different venues available, everyone is sure to find jazz clubs that they will want to attend. Wouldn’t you like to take a trip back in time?
A very special thanks to Phil, a really great musician, writer and intellectual mentor to me. Thanks so much for having us on your trip through NYC’s Jazz Scene. Once more, collaborating with you is always a great pleasure.
Cheerio, Klaudia xx