The roaring '20s are about to start again, and naturally that means jazz is due for a comeback. Of course here in Melbourne jazz never really went out of style, with a healthy population of clubs dedicated to the city's hepcats. Whether you're after a full dinner show or just somewhere you can sit back and relax with a whisky and some Coltrane, these are the top places to listen to jazz music in Melbourne.
The best jazz bars in Melbourne
This swinging live music venue is open every damn evening because jazz never has a night off. This Brunswick club cares deeply about furthering jazz and jazz musicians, with the Jazzlab hosting the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, the Women’s International Jazz Festival and the Melbourne Jazz Cooperative. The Jazzlab is based around the design of the late, great Bennett’s Lane Jazz Club and plays everything from cutting edge experimental jazz to the classics of the roaring 20s.
Melbourne plays host to New York City's famed Birdland sister club, Bird's Basement – a gutsy 200 seater that runs in line with the Birdland model with live shows five nights a week. It shares international and local jazz talent with its dead-cool older sibling (Ravi Coltrane, John Scofield and ‘80s teen star Molly Ringwald have all graced the stage) but also shines a light on local musicians who’ve nailed the old-school aesthetic. You can even get dinner served to you.
Located down one of Melbourne's many CBD laneways, the Paris Cat is cool and cosy, emanating a '20s and '30s Parisian-chic feel. Featuring two band rooms with a lounge bar in the middle, the Paris Cat has played host to some seriously good international and local performers since its doors opened in 2006. Jazz greats cover the velvety walls, with an intimate atmosphere setting the tone for easy music listening. The Paris Cat is the sort of place where a fur stole-toting heiress smoking a cigarillo would not look out of place.
Walk up the unassuming stairs under the neon 'Uptown Jazz Cafe' sign and you'll find this trendy little jazz bar that boasts live music most nights of the week. These guys take their craft pretty seriously – you can tell by the giant shrine to Charlie Parker that’s on the wall. Uptown reveres the 'Melbourne sound', a rough-around-the-edges sound with improvisers often making their mark on stage. Park yourself beside the window looking down on Brunswick Street and order from the Japanese menu (yep, there's sake on there too).
The energy at Vamos is fun and fresh, with the Latin American bar and eatery a favourite among those looking to cut loose. Every Thursday night Vamos host Jazz n' Samba, the musical duo of Wendy Ealey and Ian Andrews who play exactly what you expect. Vamos isn't a jazz club in the strictest sense, but it's perfect for those who want to experience just a taste of South America's jazz culture.
Glenferrie Road's classy-cool cinema does more than screen films. Tiptoe down a narrow staircase and you'll find the Lido Jazz Room, a cosy 40-seater venue that pays homage to Manhattan jazz bars of the '80s. The Jazz Room features live musicians every Friday and Saturday, with the gig list curated by Sonny Rehe, the man behind the Uptown Jazz Café in Fitzroy.
The colourful, shabby 303 is usually a hub of activity, so it’s no surprise you’ll find some of the city’s best live music here. Since its inception, 303 has supported quality, no frills music, with a smattering of jazz musicians hitting their band room over the years. 303 aren’t defined as a jazz club per se, but they offer jazz in bite-sized and accessible bouts, perfect for the casual jazz aficionado. Only a few doors down from the Northcote Social Club, 303 usually has bands playing free from noon until late.
The weirdest-shaped pub in Melbourne feels more like a cosy lounge room than a music venue. Here, you can catch live music several nights a week; often jazz, funk, country or blues. The Pinni is no frills, no bull – just couch-dwelling jazz fans hunkering down for a chilled-out sesh. Be sure to check the updating gig guide for crooners, beboppers and genre-straddling multi-instrumentalists.
On Wednesday nights head over to this under-the-radar Brunswick Street gem that serves up cocktails, craft brews and a free jazz show to boot. Settle in beside the cosy indoor stage where jazz hepcats The Rookies do their thing. As the Rooks Return’s house jazz band, the Rookies have mastered a set list of ballads and uptempo bebop numbers, which are often accented by special guest performers. The friendly and unpretentious atmosphere is great for those dipping their toes in the jazz pool.