NYC’s Hidden Jazz Clubs

Our own John Seroff walks us through his favorite hidden jazz clubs in NYC

Photo by Shutterstock

Casual jazz listeners can find big-ticket performers seven nights a week at any of the major spots—including Blue Note, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard, and Birdland—but I prefer frequenting a few key venues where jazz is very much alive. Discover four of my favorites and the eclectic shows they’re hosting this summer.

Zinc Bar, 82 West 3rd Street (between Thompson and Sullivan Streets), Greenwich Village
Located in the heart of the Village among a scrum of performance venues and restaurants, Zinc Bar’s endearing speakeasy feel begins as you go down the stairs and past the rail bar. A wall of velvet curtains separates the stage and the main room, creating an intimate and surprisingly acoustically crisp stage to see global stars and local jazz royalty. The smart move here is to grab the elevated table closer to the bar stage right; I find it to be more private and comfortable.

What to hear: Regular (and personally reliable) late-night jam sessions every Tuesday, sponsored by music blog Revive Music, set the tone for the rest of your work week. One of my favorite live shows of all time also happened here with the greatly underrated jazz pianist and vocalist Andy Bey; it’s truly a great space to take a chance on a new artist.

The Stone, East 2nd Street (at Avenue C), Alphabet City
Saxophonist and impresario John Zorn’s The Stone is a throwback to a different model of music venue management. The booking is done exclusively by handpicked resident artists, and every cent goes directly to performers (something I can totally get behind). The emphasis is squarely on experimental music, so bring an open mind and a set of earplugs. Comfort levels for the audience is at folding chair levels, but the extreme intimacy and tiny audiences elevate the experience for me. Get to a show here sooner rather than later; the club is set to move to a new home at the New School early next year.

What to hear: Pianist Uri Caine will perform all week from June 6 to 11, with a different program nightly; you’ll probably see me at multiple shows for this reason. Composer Chris Brown has a six-night run of “microtonal electroacoustic” from June 20 to 25, while multi-instrumentalist Karl Berger’s multidisciplinary residency runs from June 27 to July 2.

Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill
The clue is in the name. Roulette’s programming veers toward the obscure and the innovative, with an emphasis on new work and sprawling ensembles. If you’re feeling adventurous or would like to take a chance on a new artist like I tend to do, Roulette’s signal-to-noise ratio is mighty high. You’ll often find me hanging out on the balcony; the overhead views are hard to beat. Roulette also offers an A+ membership program for $275 that gets you all access to any show for a full year; it’s an amazing opportunity to expand your musical vocabulary with the venue’s ridiculously diverse booking.

What to hear: You may not know what you’re in for when you come to a show here, but you always leave with strong opinions. A recent visit to Roulette to see Battle Trance left me, well, entranced. Resident artist Tomeka Reid performs with her Large Ensemble on June 7; saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and percussionist Chad Taylor lead a multipiece band through the works of Coltrane, Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and Sun Ra on June 5; and guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan celebrate the release of their new disc, Small Town, on June 30. All worth checking out.

Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street (between Bedford and Bleecker Streets), West Village
GHMS is part of the century-old Greenwich House secular social care and arts complex, which includes a nursery school, a pottery studio, and a senior center. Nestled in a charming side street, the building also houses a well-appointed stage with two full-size Steinway grand pianos and a bevy of cutting-edge performers. The last show I saw there was an international celebration of turn-of-the-century ragtime headlined by Chris Washburne and featuring the knockout pianist André Mehmari and Evan Christopher blowing liquid smoke out of his clarinet; it was a definite top-ten-of-the-year performance for me.

What to hear: A tribute to recently passed composer Paul Motian on June 22 and a recital from pianist Matt Mitchell and saxophonist Tim Berne on June 29 both look great, but my money is on Fay Victor’s vocal renditions of the works of bop-era composer Herbie Nichols on June 23 and a Thelonious Monk tribute on June 30 featuring an all-star collective of guitarists, including Rez Abbasi, Nels Cline, Steve Cardenas, and Anders Nilsson.

Photo by Peter Parrella

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