The best jazz club nights and venues
You won’t find an opulent setting, high style or anything else manicured for social media—this legendary L.A. haunt is a musician’s club. Jazz greats and behind-the-scenes session musicians alike headline and jam in this no-frills spot, and have since 1970. Nightly shows and raucous crowds pack into the cozy Studio City dive, where tickets average $20—but put aside a few more bucks for this spot’s signature baked potatoes, which come overflowing with cheese, veggies and just about any other topping you can imagine. There’s also a two-drink minimum, but don’t worry: Drinks start as low as $5 apiece.
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—usually around $20—and you won’t be asked to spend anything beyond that, so music comes first and talkers aren’t tolerated. When it comes to jazz in L.A., Blue Whale has its finger on the pulse; CD release parties are common here and popular jam 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?”
It’s usually the jazz, not the supper, that brings folks to this intimate club in Hollywood. Look closely 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.
The stage named by and for DTLA’s L.A.’s top arts philanthropists might seem a bit out of place—especially given its Santa Monica location, miles away from Downtown—but the Broad Stage is an elegant venue for theater, dance and music throughout the year. It’s not Disney Hall West, but the 500-plus-seat auditorium (inspired by Italian horseshoe–shaped theaters) boasts impeccable acoustics and seats so comfortable you’ll be hoping for an encore or two. Ditto the comfort in the venue’s sibling blackbox theater, which is also home to the occasional performance. The jazz series is sparse but important—consistently each year, an impressive and surprising lineup graces the stages.
Sink into a low-back chair and peruse one of Highland Park’s most refined cocktail menus as you take in not one but two nights of free live jazz every week. The setting’s sleek and classic with industrial touches, not unlike the old-meets-new music you’ll find on Mondays, when celebrated guitarist and songwriter Jeff Parker brings his eclectic and R&B-inspired jazz to the cozy cocktail bar. Tuesdays, the more traditional, smooth jams from drummer Matt Mayhall and bassist Paul Bryan feel dreamy, loose and carefree. The music can get loud—maybe too loud for chatting up a date—but this spot oozes romance and cool unlike any other.
A perfect L.A. night usually means a show at the iconic Bowl on a warm summer evening under faint stars, with a picnic dinner in the foreground and the silhouette of the Hollywood Hills behind. The annual jazz series, curated by Herbie Hancock, presents iconic performers from around the world—this season alone we’re looking at George Benson, Seal and Queen Latifa—and kicks off with the famous, weekend-long Playboy Jazz Festival. Want to focus more on your picnic and less on stacked parking? Preorder a park-and-ride spot to get a round-trip lift for only $7—available from any of the 14 park-and-ride lots that stretch from Torrance to Chatsworth. Your feet and schedule will thank you.
You might recognize the brick-walled jazz club from 2016’s La La Land, but the truth is that this South Bay spot’s been showcasing jazz and bebop musicians since the 1940s. One of L.A.’s premier clubs, Lighthouse Café is also one of the most diverse, offering a range of genres from one day to the next—and with performances every day of the week. The place is packed for jazz brunch on weekends, and on weekday nights, get in without a cover—so you can save those dollars for the all-day drink specials and Wednesday jazz happy hour.
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.
Sam First is one of those hidden gems that not only feels tucked away in its given neighborhood—it feels tucked away in time. The setting is modern but feels more midcentury modern, and the cocktails follow suit: Classics like old-fashioneds, Manhattans and martinis reign supreme and set a classy tone for the evening, especially when you drop by on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for live jazz. Expect smooth vocalists crooning the standards; freestyle upright bass; experimental sax and more, with tickets falling somewhere between $10 and $20, lineup depending. There’s almost always a one-drink minimum on show nights, but hey, this bar’s throwback vibes practically beg for a gimlet as is.
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, the wood-paneled lounge gets busy with spirits tastings, drink specials and live jazz starting at 8pm—with no cover. Beginning at 9pm on Friday and Saturday nights, this cozy spot stays cool well into the weekend with more live music, though it tends to be a bit more pop- and rock-inspired.
If you don’t already think 213 Hospitality’s revamp of Cole’s turned the French-dip destination into one of Downtown’s best watering holes, you clearly haven’t checked out the Varnish, Cole’s very own speakeasy. Walk through the storied restaurant and bar to find this cocktail oasis, which just so happens to feature free, live jazz every Sunday to Wednesday starting at 9pm. The low-lit, wood-heavy bar provides a moody setting for classic-leaning tipples and light backround jazz, be it quartet or solo pianist taking the spotlight.
What do you get when you let a musician design a jazz club? Impeccable acoustics and a packed 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 nearly every night of the 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—in addition to a cover that hovers around $20 apiece—but if you’re looking for a romantic place with fancy food and thoughtful entertainment, Vibrato is your spot. Reservations are recommended.
Most trips to Los Angeles include at least a glimpse of architect Frank Gehry’s voluptuous concert hall on Grand Avenue, and with good reason. When it comes to Disney Hall, looks aren’t deceiving: The traffic-halting 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 brief-but-well-curated 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.