Whether you hear it in passing from a busker each morning on your way to work or you’re Kermit Ruffins, jazz music has a place in the life of every New Orleanian (as cliche as it may sound). I may not know my way around a saxophone nor do I consider myself any sort of expert in the genre, but I have come to appreciate jazz in the same way I appreciate the city that made it — both a mix of rich tradition and constant, lively adaptation to the world around them. While I’d be pressed to name more a few of the most popular tunes, I can share some of the best spots to hear live jazz in the city that started it all.
Located in the world-famous (or infamous, depending on how you slice it) French Quarter, Preservation Hall was established in 1961 as a way to – you guessed it – preserve the legacy of traditional jazz music in the city. Between the venue, the touring band, and the non-profit organization, the hall has helped rejuvenate both classical and contemporary jazz as evidenced by their recent collaborations with artists like Blind Boys of Alabama, Mos Def, Arcade Fire, and My Morning Jacket. They host multiple shows per evening over 350 nights a year in an intimate, acoustic setting and are waiting for you to join them.
On the unofficial dividing line between the French Quarter and the Marigny, you’ll find Snug Harbor which has boasted live, unadulterated jazz seven nights a week since the 1980s. Housed in a converted 1800s storefront, Snug is the jazz club you picture when you think of New Orleans — small, candlelit tables with a no-nonsense greeter at the door and delicious smells coming from the kitchen.
The Spotted Cat
Right across from Snug Harbor on Frenchmen Street — a stretch of the Marigny constantly brimming with live music — sits The Spotted Cat Music Club. One of the best places to be on a Sunday night, the crowd of local cats outside the storefront window is a site to see in and of itself. Carve out an afternoon and evening to grab a beer (or two or three), post up, and watch a few sets in a row while watching the sun set.
The Davenport Lounge
If you’re looking for a venue with that old-Hollywood jazz club feel, you’ll feel right at home in the Davenport Lounge. Located inside The Ritz-Carlton on Canal Street, this upscale venue hosts performances from its headlining musician and namesake Jeremy Davenport among others. Enjoy a signature Sazerac cocktail as you sway to the music or pop over to the adjoining M Bistro for a more substantial bite without missing a single song.
Another gem in the musical crown of Frenchmen Street, Blue Nile boasts performances by both the world-renowned and the up-and-coming in the jazz, funk, blues, and rock scenes. The unbeatable talent paired with the dreamy blue and purple glow of the club lights will make you feel like you’re in a music-lover’s oasis that you won’t want to leave any time soon.
The Bywater is home to Bacchanal Wine, a wine shop and restaurant located in the backyard of the oldest house in the neighborhood. So naturally, they have some of the best jazz musicians in New Orleans playing there every night of the week. Bacchanal has provided wine, cheese, craft plates, cocktails, and music to New Orleanians since before Hurricane Katrina and was one of the first businesses to re-open its doors after the storm, releasing a little peace and joy back into the neighborhood.
New Orleans Jazz Market
Born from the long-held dream of award-winning musician Irwin Mayfield, the People’s Health New Orleans Jazz Market exists as a living, breathing epicenter for all things jazz. The “market” — once home to a department store — is now more like a jazz community center, packed with a music hall, bar, and meeting and event spaces. It’s even kid-friendly (every Saturday is Kids’ Day!) for those of you with young music-lovers. While the space most often hosts the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, they have ticketed concerts featuring famous musicians throughout the year.
Maple Leaf Bar
Our last is tried and true and beloved in the hearts of all New Orleanians. No jazz tour of the city would be complete without stepping inside Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street. Stop in for jazz, funk, blues, and other local acts every other night of the week. Step into the garden in the back for a little rest if it gets too sweaty in there.