Jazz was born in New Orleans, but it evolved and flourished in Harlem. Legendary artists like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis played Harlem. Jazz genres like Swing, Bebop, Latin and Cool Jazz were born there, and the neighborhood once teemed with renowned Jazz clubs. Now, after decades of decline, Harlem is once again a cultural destination, and terrific Jazz venues have returned.
Here are our picks for the best Jazz Clubs in Harlem.
Bill’s Place – An authentic brownstone “jazz joint” offering great music by master musicians. Bill Saxton, a saxophonist and Harlem legend, is the host. He performs sets with his combo every Friday and Saturday at 8pm and 10pm. There is a $20 cash cover – no alcohol on the premises. 148 West 133rd Street (between 7th & Lenox Avenues). Reservations (recommended) can be made via their website or calling 212-281-0777.
Showman’s Jazz Club – since 1942 this famed jazz lounge has hosted some of the greats (Sara Vaughan, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington and Ruth Brown to name a few). Monday – Thursday there are sets at 8:30pm, 10:00pm and 11:30pm. On Friday and Saturday sets are 9:30pm, 11:30pm & 1:30am. No cover charge, but a two-drink minimum per set. Free soul food appetizers are available. 375 West 125th Street.
American Legion Post, Col. Charles Young #398 – Like the Jazz clubs of Harlem’s golden era, this intimate venue has a warm community vibe. The Sunday evening jam session begins 7:30pm – midnight, and musicians are encouraged to sit in. Jazz is also played at the Wednesday Fish Fry and Thursday nights. There is no cover charge or minimum (though one should support the venue by ordering something). Drink prices are quite reasonable and the kitchen serves up inexpensive soul food. Seating is very limited, so arrive early. 248 West 132nd Street (between 7th & 8th Avenues)
Minton’s Playhouse – this club was the birthplace of Bebop, where jam sessions with Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie fostered the new style of jazz. Re-opened in 2013 as an elegant restaurant/club (jackets highly recommended) with music provided by a roster of talented jazz ensembles and the Minton Players. You can enjoy the music over dinner, the Sunday Jazz Brunch (music cover $20-$25 per guest) or from the bar/lounge (music cover $10-$15 per guest). 206 West 118th Street.
449 LA Scat – This unassuming storefront turned café (like many classic clubs of Harlem lore) presents jazz sets Thursdays through Sundays. There is a $10 cover charge, which includes Sangria. A limited menu of beverages and snacks are also available. Thursday 6pm – 9pm, Friday 9pm – closing (owner discretion), Saturday night 8pm – closing. Sundays two bands: 1pm – 3pm and 4pm – 8pm. 449 Lenox Ave. (between 132nd & 133rd Streets).
Ginny’s Supper Club – A swank, speakeasy-inspired club beneath celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem restaurant. In addition to great food and cocktails, they offer shows by local and international Jazz talent. Tickets generally range $10-$20. Upstairs at Red Rooster‘s bar the music is free and terrific. 310 Lenox Avenue at 125th Street.
For great dining before or after a performance, see our guide to the Best Restaurants in Harlem.
Other Ways to enjoy Jazz in Harlem
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem seeks to promote, preserve and present Jazz. Their Visitors Center offers exhibits, recordings, films and weekly evening events that include curated talks, recordings and live music. Monday – Friday 10am – 4pm, Saturday 11am – 4pm. Free admission. See the museum’s calendar for their schedule of concerts and events. 104 East 126th Street.
Jazz Mobile brings superb free Jazz performances to New Yorkers with performances in neighborhood streets and parks, as well as ticketed concerts in music venues. They also offer workshops, master classes, lectures and programs for training Jazz vocalists and musicians. Check their calendar for performances, locations and programs.
The annual Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival (May 4-9, 2015) presents outstanding concerts in historic Harlem venues. Festival tickets start at $10.00 and several performances are free. Check their calendar for schedule and roster.
Have you enjoyed great Jazz in Harlem? If so, what was your favorite place? Tell us in the comments below.