Looking for a swanky jazz club in Los Angeles? Surprisingly, there are lots of spots to choose from, with everything from hotel bars to luxurious lounges. Whether at the famed Walt Disney Concert Hall Downtown, the intimate Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood or someplace in between, these 10 sophisticated LA haunts are as smooth as the live jazz they showcase.
10 best jazz club nights and venues
The stage named by and for LA's top Downtown arts philanthropists might seem a bit out of place, miles away from their Grand Avenue Corridor, but the Broad Stage is an elegant venue for theater, dance and music performances throughout the year. It's not Disney Hall West, but the 499-seat auditorium (inspired by Italian horseshoe–shaped theaters) boasts impeccable acoustics and seats so comfortable you'll be hoping for an encore or two. The jazz series is sparse but important—consistently each year, an impressive and surprising lineup graces the stage.
What do you get when you let a musician design a jazz club? Impeccable acoustics and a hearty concert calendar, which is what you'll find at this supper club at the top of Mullholland Drive in Bel Air. Designed by trumpeter, producer, composer and jazz executive Herb Alpert, this classy joint hosts stellar concerts six nights a week, including shows by out-of-towners like Italian drummer/composer Andrea Marcelli and local greats like John Daversa. The ceilings are high here and the price of dinner is, too, but if you're looking for a romantic place with fancy food and thoughtful entertainment, Vibrato is your spot. Reservations are recommended.
It's usually the jazz, not the supper, that brings folks to this intimate club in Hollywood. Look close, and you might find Roy Hargrove smoking in the parking lot before his show or Christian McBride sipping a drink at the bar after the music is through. One of the priciest jazz venues in the city, Catalina keeps up with the scene as it should; the monthly calendar balances an impressive roster of touring jazz greats and local emerging musicians. Be prepared for a strict two-drink minimum in addition to the price of admission, and don't forget to make a reservation or at least show up early, as seating is first-come first-served.
Most trips to Los Angeles include at least a glimpse of architect Frank Gehry's voluptuous concert hall on Grand Avenue. When it comes to Disney Hall, looks aren't deceiving. The curvy, stainless steel shell houses one of the most ambitious performance programs in the country. Many come to see LA Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel at the helm, but the jazz series led by Herbie Hancock offers high profile jazz acts in a highly coveted venue. And there's no such thing as a bad seat in the house.
The riches of Los Angeles can be summed up by a concert at the iconic Hollywood Bowl on a warm summer evening under the faint stars, with a picnic dinner in the foreground and the silhouette of the Hollywood hills behind. The jazz series, curated by Herbie Hancock, presents iconic performers from around the world and kicks off with the famous, weekend-long Playboy Jazz Festival. Get a lift for $7 round trip at one of the 14 park-and-ride lots that stretch from Torrance to Chatsworth, so you can focus your energy and money on your picnic, not stacked parking.
If you don't mind a little fusion, jazz here is often served with a chaser. On Friday and Saturday nights, you'll find free live jazz, R&B and rock until midnight in this glamorous bar inside the Montage hotel, adjacent to the beautiful Beverly Canon gardens and walking distance from Rodeo Drive. You don't have to be a guest at the sleek hotel to enjoy a posh night in the heart of Beverly Hills; without a cover charge or drink minimum, it's free to pretend. And, random bonus: Every Tuesday and Thursday night, all sushi rolls, sake cocktails and Japanese beers are two for the price of one.
Named for American philosopher Josiah Royce, UCLA's grand 1,800-seat theater has a history of legendary performances that dates back to the 1930s, when Jimmy Dorsey’s Band, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and Arnold Schoenberg graced the stage. The stellar jazz lineup here always reflects the diversity and scholarship of the current scene. Grab a drink at the Royce Bar and take in the Romanesque architecture that makes this one of the more elegant places in the city to absorb jazz.
A nod to the original hotel bar that opened just after Prohibition ended, the Tap Room is a high-class joint with an elegant bar and pretty patio in the Langham, one of the most beautiful hotels in the Pasadena area. On Thursday nights, Chef Jesse Flores breaks out his popular tapas plates and the bar gets busy with spirits tastings, drink specials and live jazz. The Stephen Boyd Band's residency on Friday and Saturday nights keeps this cozy spot swinging all weekend. Free live jazz at 8pm on Thursdays and 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
If Woody Allen were to make Midnight in Los Angeles, there's no doubt that the historic Milennium Biltmore Hotel, opened in 1927, would feature in dreamy, after-hours flashbacks, complete with the original sketch of the Oscar statuette on a napkin in the crystal ballroom and appearances by Clark Gable, Walt Disney, Ginger Rogers and other celebrities who shaped this hotel's history. Take your own trip back to the Roaring Twenties in the Gallery Bar on Friday and Saturday nights, where you'll find free live jazz. Study the Manhattan Menu in one of the leather banquettes or take your snifter to the cozy Cognac Room and relish a few of your favorite things.
What most people don't know about Weller Court—an unassuming concrete mall in Little Tokyo popular for its ramen cafes and Marukai Market—is that it's home to one of the best jazz clubs in the city. Despite its name, the Blue Whale isn't easy to spot, which means those who are there know why they came. If you're looking for a date conversation soundtrack, this isn't your place. The cover price at this romantic but vivacious club is unpretentious and you won't be asked to spend anything beyond the door cover, so music comes first and talkers aren't tolerated. When it comes to jazz in LA, Blue Whale has its finger on the pulse. CD release parties are common here and popular jam session nights bring in emerging talents at reduced admission. The most peculiar thing about the Blue Whale is the challenge it presents to its listeners: entertainment that will keep you there till dawn and uncomfortable, cube-shaped seats that seem to quote Dan Hick's song, “How can I miss you, if you won't go away?”