The Best Jazz Destinations around the World
Whether it's jiving to some big band swing, lounging in a bluesy juke joint, or checking out the contemporary avant garde scene, here at Travelzoo we love scouting out the best jazz haunts on our travels. That's why we're proud to sponsor the International Jazz Act at this year's Jazz FM Awards.
From cities that are peppered with small local hangouts to those that celebrate the music in all its flavours at huge festivals, we've rounded up the best destinations around the globe to immerse yourself in everything jazz.
We couldn't start this list in any other way. Considered by many as the birthplace of the genre, New Orleans has jazz music running through its veins, and it's infused into the culture of the city. The top clubs worth making special trips to (and booking in advance for) are the Spotted Cat, Blue Nile, and of course Preservation Hall. However, in reality you're never far away from a club, and the general standard is so high that whenever we're there we like to spend a day just hopping between the dive bars and classy lounges around the French Quarter. If time allows, also take a trip to the historic Tremé area, which is known for its big band-style jazz and boisterous clubs like Kermit's Tremé Mother-in-Law Lounge.
In Latin America, music seems to integrate seamlessly into everyday life, and nowhere more so than high-energy jazz in Havana. Of course, there's a heavy Latin American influence, with trumpets and Spanish guitars, but the traditional jazz stylings are undeniable. Local bars and restaurants use bands to try and entice passers-by, so just walking down the street can have a soundtrack of half-a-dozen swirling melodies. Follow your ear, find a favourite, and sit back with an ice-cold daiquiri and a bowl of chicharrones.
In the 1920s, Poland discovered its own unique swing by combining jazz with its traditional fiddle-based music, and the scene exploded. After World War II the country was under strict repression — however, jazz was a non-violent way of resisting this and came to represent lost freedoms. The genre is still held close to the heart of many Polish communities and Krakow is a hotspot with some of the country's (and Europe's) best venues. We love Harris Piano Jazz Bar and Jazz Club u Muniaka, both intimate atmospheric bars housed in centuries-old cellars, which host boisterous club nights as well as one-off shows.
New York City
NYC is a mecca for jazz, and has been for the past century since the bopping clubs of Harlem regularly played host to giants of the genre like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, and Cab Colloway. Now largely concentrated in Manhattan, you can scout out world-class jazz any night of the week or learn about it at the National Jazz Museum. A couple of our favourite clubs are Birdland Jazz Club NYC, where Charlie Parker was the first headliner in 1949, and Greenwich Village hub The Blue Note. Can't get there at the moment? No problem, not-for-profit Smalls Jazz Club streams all its shows for free online.
The French Riviera has long had an affinity with jazz, with many events centred around the resort town of Juan-les-Pins, which is twinned with New Orleans. The annual Jazz à Juan, normally held in July, is one of the world's great jazz festivals, and over the last 60 years has produced some of the finest performances ever seen. Miles Davis's 1969 set was immortalised on the "1969 Miles — Festiva De Juan Pins" album, while Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington's "Ella and Duke at the Cote D'Azur" album recorded here in 1967 has a fantastically raucous — and our favourite — version of "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)".
While in the town, also take a stroll down Boulevard Edouard Baudoin — essentially a walk of fame for past festival musicians. Not all jazz, it includes Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, and Little Richard, as well as Fats Waller, Ray Charles, Elvin Jones, and Dave Brubeck.
Jazz musicians have been closely linked to hard living and good times… which, in the era of prohibition in 1920s USA, proved problematic. The answer? Head north to Montreal, where alcohol was legal to buy, and jazz bars proliferated as music filled the streets and parties carried on until the early hours. Montreal has kept this tradition alive, with numerous first-class clubs, such as the House of Jazz and Modavie.
And of course there's the International Jazz Festival, which is the largest and most famous celebration of the genre in the world. It's a 10-day party that starts in late-June each year, and attracts the world's biggest stars, as well as hosting loads of free shows to hang out at.
Somewhat late to the game, Copenhagen is nevertheless now a city in love with jazz. It started with homegrown stars like Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen and John Tchicai hitting the international scene in the 1960s; then US stars started emigrating to the city, drawn by the friendly Scandinavian audiences. With state-funded non-profit venues like Jazzhus Montmartre, it's now a cradle for some of the most exciting avant-garde. The harbourside Standard Jazz Club is also a great shout for bigger names on the scene — and with a first-class restaurant, it also hosts occasional jazz dinners.
By far the epicentre of jazz in Africa, Cape Town is home to a range of jazz clubs that would give those in Europe or North America a run for their money. Lounge 021 @ Swingers specialises in contemporary afro-jazz, the West End Jazz Club is the go-to for jazz traditionalists, and Hanover Street Jazz Club has a golden age speakeasy vibe with a focus on New Orleans-style jazz. However, jazz fans should plan a trip in March, when the city hosts its International Jazz Festival, which welcomes some of the world's biggest stars each year.
Paris feels like it could be one elaborate jazz club that's just extended out across an entire city, from the smoky café terraces to the Art Nouveau metro stations. If you're on the lookout, there's jazz to be found almost anywhere you are, with each area moving to a different soundtrack — head to the Latin Quarter for classic Parisian gypsy jazz, Montmartre for sultry sax ringing out into the streets, or Rue des Lombards for a trio of high-end jazz lounges (Sunset/Sunside, Le Baiser Salé, and Le Duc des Lombards).
Find deals to these places in our city breaks collection.