Prohibition, as much as anything else, led Greenwich Village to become a center of live jazz. The basements of brownstones lent themselves to serving as speakeasies, and where there’s drinking there’s often live music. Of course, even once the speakeasies transformed into legitimate bars, live music was still a welcome accompaniment. By mid-century, the syncopated beats of the music mirrored the neighborhood’s energy perfectly. Although the heyday of jazz has passed, the Village is still bopping with jazz clubs. Here’s a literal A (Arthur’s Tavern) to Z (Zinc Bar).
57 Grove Street (between 7th Avenue and Bleecker Street)
Arthur’s Tavern. Image: Phil Whitehouse/Flickr
Arthur’s Tavern has been presenting live jazz since 1937, and if the interior appears not to have been redecorated since Charlie Parker regularly gigged here, so much the better. This is a joint, in the best sense of the word: nothing trendy, nothing fancy, just jazz without a cover charge every night of the week, beginning at 7. Monday nights feature Dixieland jazz; a trio led by pianist Eri Yamamoto kicks things off Thursdays through Saturdays; Sweet Georgia Brown, who has sung on Broadway and with such notables as Dizzy Gillespie and George Benson, takes the stage on Thursdays and Fridays at 10 p.m.
131 West 3rd Street (between Macdougal Street and 6th Avenue)
Blue Note. Image: Hantsheroes/Wikimedia
Though Blue Note launched several decades after Arthur’s Tavern—in 1981, to be exact—it too is a local institution. Almost every evening it offers two shows, with marquee names such as McCoy Tyner, David Sanborn, and Chick Corea playing for multiple consecutive nights. The club hosts two brunch sets each Sunday as well, and trumpeter Chris Botti’s nearly month-long holiday residency is becoming as much a tradition as roasted chestnuts: 2017 will be its 13th year.
32 Jones Street (between Bleecker and West 4th Streets)
Given that this restaurant/bar was named after the Baroque composer, it is no surprise that classical music, as well as world music, pop, and other genres, is performed live here. But jazz is perhaps the most frequently heard. Sunday evenings, for instance, multi-instrumentalist John Lander hosts an open-invitation jazz jam session, and the Jon Sheckler Trio, Rough Cane Sugar, and the Jinjoo Yoo Trio are among the jazz ensembles that have played here recently.
75 Christopher Street (between 7th Avenue South and Bleecker Street)
Presenting three sets a night—except for Fridays, when it hosts four—Fat Cat offers something for every type of jazz fan. Recent performers included vocal group the Supreme Queens, the swing-influenced Ehud Asherie Trio, and Peter Brainin and the Latin Jazz Workshop. Before or after the show, head to the club’s game area, where you can play pool, ping pong, tabletop shuffleboard, foosball, chess, backgammon, and Scrabble.
163 West 10th Street (between Waverly Place and 7th Avenue South)
This intimate bar, named after clarinet and sax player Mezz Mezzrow, makes great use of its Steinway Model A by hosting such stellar jazz pianists as Lafayette Harris, Kenny Barron, and Harvey Diamond, accompanied by just one or two bandmates. Located in the basement of a residential building, it is meant to appeal to serious aficionados. While “polite conversation is acceptable” in its lounge, in the listening room “we ask that conversation be kept to a bare minimum.”
183 West 10th Street (between 7th Avenue South and West 4th Street)
Smalls Jazz Club. Image: Jess R./Flickr
The elder sibling of Mezzrow, Smalls features jazz from 7:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily, as well as afternoon sets on Saturdays and Sundays. A petite space with a full bar, it is generally considered to be the place to catch cult performers and up-and-coming artists who nonetheless have enough of a following that lines can form well in advance of showtime. Recent artists included the E.J. Strickland Trio, the Melissa Aldana Unity Band, and Brooklyn Circle.
178 7th Avenue South (off Waverly Place)
Village Vanguard. Image: Eden, Janine and Jim/Flickr
John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, and Sonny Rollins are just a few of the jazz greats who recorded live albums at this legendary venue, which opened in 1935. The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, a 16-piece band founded as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra in 1966, plays every Monday night. Bands led by guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, drummer Billy Hart, and saxophonist Joe Lovano are among those maintaining the Vanguard’s musical heritage.
82 West 3rd Street (between Thompson and Sullivan Streets)
The one-time site of Club Cinderella, where legends such as Billie Holliday and Thelonious Monk performed, Zinc Bar hosts sets from a broad range of jazz subgenres: Afro-Cuban (Román Díaz and Rumba Habanera), Brazilian (the Livio Almeida Brazilian Dectet), free jazz (the Misha Piatigorsky Trio), orchestral jazz (the Valery Ponomarev Big Band)… For a change of pace, Sunday nights are dedicated to tango, with the Enigma Tango Trio.