Sometimes you’re looking for that classic NYC jazz-club experience, the kind you'll find at old standbys such as Village Vanguard. On other nights, though, you’re feeling a little adventurous, interested in catching a promising unknown rather than a time-tested veteran. Whenever the latter mood strikes, try out one of these top incubators of up-and-coming jazz talent.
RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of jazz in NYC
Jazz clubs to find new artists
For those looking for an authentic jazz club experience—rather than the cheesy dinner-club vibe that prevails at too many other spots around town—Smalls is a must. The cozy basement space feels like a speakeasy, or more specifically, one of those hole-in-the-wall NYC jazz haunts of yore over which fans routinely obsess. Best of all, the booking skews retro, yet not stubbornly so: You'll hear classic hardbop as well as more adventurous, contemporary-flavored approaches.
This 30-year-old bistro-cum-clubhouse features a miniature basement cabaret devoted to readings and music, along with a genial dining room that opens wide to the sidewalk in summer. The colorful, if dated, menu is consistent with the place’s bohemian roots. The eclectic fare ranges from glorified bar food like a light, gooey flatbread pizza, to more ambitious mains, like al dente lobster ravioli surrounded by snow peas or plump satisfying veal sausage on a mashed potato heap.
Many ghosts haunt the sodden crossroads known as Sheridan Square: poets, painters, firebrands. But only at 55 Bar can you imbibe alongside a living legend, weekly gigging jazz-rock guitarist Mike Stern. Other top boppers and bluesmen swing in the narrow basement boîte nightly. All shows have a two-drink minimum, but never fear: The bartenders know how to mix. If you want to talk, sit in back so the head-bobbing jazzbos don’t shush you.