Jazz music got its start in 19th-century New Orleans as a fusion of African-American and European music traditions. The then-new genre of music quickly spread and evolved as influential musicians like Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington came onto the scene. Even though the United States is the birthplace of jazz music, it’s now enjoyed in various forms throughout the world, from Germany to Azerbaijan.
Some of the original clubs that these great jazz musicians played at are still booking talent and attracting music aficionados every week. It’s time you check them out for yourself. We’ve compiled eight high-quality venues around the United States that anyone who appreciates live jazz music must visit.
New Orleans is a requisite stop on any U.S. jazz tour. When planning a trip, late April is the best time to visit since that’s when the city hosts the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. This annual celebration of music and culture spans two weekends and always books top musical talent in its lineup.
Make sure to stop in at Preservation Hall, a New Orleans institution. This venue was established in 1961 to honor traditional New Orleans jazz and is open every night of the week.
The Spotted Cat Music Club, or just “The Cat” as it’s known, is an intimate venue that hosts three bands each day. They don’t accept reservations or credit cards, so get there early for a spot and have cash on hand. There is also no food service at this club, so make sure you fill up on some of the city’s tasty eats before you arrive.
Chicago became an important city for jazz after many talented musicians moved north from New Orleans around the early 1920s. As a result, there are many top-notch live-music jazz venues throughout the city. The Green Mill Jazz Club was established in the early 20th century and survived through the Prohibition era as a mobster hangout and speakeasy. The interior of the club hasn’t changed much and maintains an antiquated feel with wood paneling, high booths with velvet seat backs, and neon signage behind the dimly lit stage.
Andy’s Jazz Club & Restaurant has been serving up food and tunes for decades. This downtown Chicago venue has a great location, too, just off the Magnificent Mile. They offer a full dinner menu and host two bands each night in an intimate performance room.
New York City boasts excellent jazz clubs as a result of the musical talent it’s attracted over the years. This is where Miles Davis spent much of his life after attending the Juilliard School, and therefore where he had frequent live performances. For those who didn’t get to see Davis play in person, you can still visit some of the NYC clubs he played at, like Birdland Jazz Club and Village Vanguard.
Detroit might be known as a rock city, but it has some noteworthy jazz clubs as well. Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, for instance, received historic designation as one of America’s oldest continuous jazz clubs. Baker’s started as a simple sandwich shop in 1933, but within a few years was bringing in hot jazz musicians. Their most notable talent includes Nat "King" Cole, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald, to name a few.
Cliff Bell’s reopened in 2005 after being shuttered for 20 years. It quickly made a name for itself as a one of Detroit’s more sophisticated jazz clubs. Cliff Bell’s food and beverage offerings follow suit. Their dinner menu includes pan-seared salmon and flat-iron steak alongside artfully crafted cocktails.
One exciting thing about great jazz clubs is that the night’s on-stage talent might not all be advertised in advance. Many of the clubs mentioned have open-door policies with the music industry’s top talent. A house band might be scheduled to play, but you never know who may drop in to accompany them or give a solo performance. Even if a superstar doesn’t crash your experience, enjoying the tunes of talented musicians is a great way to spend an evening.