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Jazz NYC: The Best Places to Listen

April 18, 2017 - by Evan Levy
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Whether you want loud and progressive, quiet and moody, or bouncy and swingy, there's someplaceactually several someplacesto listen to jazz in New York City, one of the best places in the world for the music form that America invented. Whether you're an aficionado or just want a taste of the sound, you really can’t go wrong. Jazz, after all, is about improvisation, so feel free to just let loose. Read on for our picks for the best places to hear jazz in NYC.

Best Jazz NYC: Village

Blue Note

photo: flickr/Zhang Yu 

For more than 35 years, the Blue Note has been a cultural icon in the Village, hosting such luminaries as Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughn, and Dizzy Gillespie; it’s always been the place to go to see top performers in a smallish setting, and has long been considered one of the top jazz clubs pretty much anywhere. More recently, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, and John Scofield have shown up to perform, and the club’s been known for its bi-weekly, late-night groove series at 12:30am on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as its Monday night series, both meant to introduce up-and-coming performers  in jazz, funk, R&B, and more. (You know a place is famous when it has its own gift shopperhaps a Blue Note cellphone case to take back home? Blue Note spinoffs also exist in venues around the world, from Milan to Tokyo.) Check out their live online events as well. 131 West 3rd St., 212-475-8592, bluenotejazz.com 

Best Jazz NYC: Midtown West

Birdland New York

Photo: flickr/Jazz Guy

Jazz aficionados probably knowor can guessthat the guiding spirit behind Birdland was Charlie Parker, known as Bird, short for Yardbird; he was the headliner when the club opened in 1949. Its fame continued with Count Basie (Birdland was his New York headquarters) and artists like Miles Davis and John Coltranethe entrance fee was a lofty $1.50. After several openings and closings, it's now established in midtown, hosting musical events like the Umbria Jazz Festival, as well as the annual Django Reinhardt NY Festival. Back in the day, luminaries in the audience as well as on stage—Marilyn Monroe and Gary Cooper were among the attendees (not necessarily together, we don't mean to spread any rumors here). These days, go for the classic (the Birdland Big Band) or the new (Jeff Lorver Fusion).  315 W. 44th St., 212- 581-3080, birdlandjazz.com

Best Jazz NYC: Upper West Side

Perhaps best known as the venue at which Les Paul played weekly sessions, the Iridium has hosted legendary performers from the world of jazz, blues, and rock for more than 20 years. One of the only New York concert venues to have its own label (IridiumLive), the space also doubles as a recording studio. Last September the club upgraded its stage and sound system, which debuted last fall as the site for Front and Center, PBS’s music series. Performers range from the Henry Butler Trio to the Kenny Garrett Band. They also attract big names from other areas: recent performers include Cyndi Lauper and Billy Porter. 1650 Broadway, 212-582-2121, theiridium.com

Best Jazz NYC: Lincoln Center

Jazz at Lincoln Center is pretty much the granddaddy of jazz in New York. With education programs, workshops (WeBop for your toddler, perhaps?), radio shows, and live performances with the top names in jazz, they've pretty much got it covered. Lest you think, “too commercial, too big”don’t. It’s still the place to go for fantastic acoustics and big names in jazz from Bill Charlap to Wynton Marsalis, and they’ve done huge amount to popularize the genre and make it accessible. At Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, an updated version of a classic jazz club, you can eat, drink, and hang out with your bossor your 7-year-oldall while listening to performers ranging from youth and college jazz orchestras to small trios; check out their late-night sessions as well. The Rose Center tends to attract bigger names like the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. In the Appel Room, catch performers like Vanessa Williams or a tribute to Peggy Lee with Jane Monheit. 3 Columbus Circle, 212-258-9800, jazz.org

Best Jazz NYC: Flatiron

Jazz Standard

Featuring legendary artists as well as on-their-way-up performers, Jazz Standard also offers barbecue and Southern food from Blue Smoke. (It’s run by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, so you know the food will be good. As they say: come for the jazz, stay for the 'cue). Jazz pianist Tommy Flanagan and composer Andrew Hill have both appeared here. Stop by for “Mingus Mondays,” which pay tribute to the great jazz bassist Charles Mingus, or "Jazz for Kids,” which gives the younger generation a chance to audition for and play with a jazz band. The album “Lines of Color: Live at Jazz Standard” was, yep, recorded live at Jazz Standard. Coming up: The Freddie Hendrix Septet and the Orrin Evans Trio. 116 E. 27th St., 212-576-2232, jazzstandard.com

Best Jazz NYC: Upper West Side

With its somewhat unlikely home on the Upper West Side, Smoke offers the kind of luxe banquettes and chandeliers that one associates with clubs of a bygone era, or perhaps a Woody Allen movie. It hosts just about 50 people for an intimate experience, and also offers great soul foodstop by for the jazz brunch on Sundays and have some chicken and waffles with your saxophone solo. Known as well for its great acoustics, the venue has welcomed such performers as Lea Delaria (Orange is the New Black) for a jazz tribute to David Bowie, and the Champian Fulton quintet. Tickets are reasonably priced (many under $15) and at the 'Round Midnight Session, there's often no cover charge. 2751 Broadway, 212-864-6662, smokejazz.com 

Best Jazz NYC: Midtown West

Swing 46

It may sound like something Lucy and Ricky would do on I Love Lucy, but Swing 46 offers nightly dance lessons, live bands, dinner, and cocktails (try a bar snack like fries with lemon grass and parsley). They’re serious about the supper club part tootry the prix fixe meal. This is the place to go when you want a little bit of everything, and nothing too intense. Upcoming performers: Felix and the Cats and the George Gee Orchestra. Check out their $15 music deal for the evening. 349 W. 46th St., 212-262-9554, swing46.com

Best Jazz NYC: Village

Village Vanguard

Opened in 1935, the Village Vanguard is surely one of New York’s most storied houses for listening to jazz. (Lorraine Gordon, the widow of the man who started it, is still overseeing the club. Yes, she’s in her 90s.) “Live at the Village Vanguard” recordings are classics, featuring the likes of Sonny Rollins and Bill Evans. The current offerings are broad and offer many forms of jazz, from the radical to the classic. Every Monday the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra takes the stage; this year marks its 50th anniversary. Go so you can say you’ve been. (And also to enjoy the music.) 178 Seventh Ave. So., 212-255-4037, villagevanguard.com

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