Women of Jazz

the women of jazz

The women of jazz played a significant role in the development of the genre since the early days of its emergence. However, many female contributors to jazz are incidentally overlooked, even though their influence on jazz was significant.

Without women in jazz, the genre may have taken a different shape, leaving us without some of the sounds we appreciate today. Here’s a look at the women of jazz, including some of the most influential contributors, and how women reshaped the jazz world during its earliest days.

The Women of Jazz

While some of the women of jazz are broadly considered household names, other major contributors aren’t well known by the public at large. However, their contributions and influence on jazz are incredibly noteworthy and deserving of far more recognition than they potentially receive.

Here’s a look at some of the most influential female instrumentalists, singers, and composers during the evolution of the jazz scene, including some household names and some lesser-known musicians.

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald in September 1947
Ella Fitzgerald, September 1947
William P. Gottlieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Among female jazz singers, Ella Fitzgerald is considered one of the greatest of all time. With 13 Grammies to her name and over 40 million album sales, she was one of the most popular female jazz artists in history by a significant margin.

Ella Fitzgerald was an exceptional vocal talent with a timeless quality that broadened her appeal. Along with a sultry tone, she could mimic orchestral instruments, giving her a unique creative edge. In time, she also mastered scat, ultimately taking it to new places.

As her career unfolded, Ella Fitzgerald wasn’t limited to the stage. She made appearances on popular television variety shows, becoming a favorite guest of Ed Sullivan, Andy Williams, Dean Martin, and more.

During her career, Ella Fitzgerald recorded more than 200 albums. Ultimately, jazz wouldn’t be the same without her, and she’ll likely be considered one of the greats until the end of time.

Mary Lou Williams

Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams, Tadd Dameron, Hank Jones, Milt Orent, Dixie Bailey, and Jack Teagarden, Mary Lou Williams' apartment, New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1947 (William P. Gottlieb 09281)
Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams, Tadd Dameron, Hank Jones, Milt Orent, Dixie Bailey, and Jack Teagarden, Mary Lou Williams’ apartment, New York, N.Y.
William P. Gottlieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams is widely viewed as one of the first women to have success as a jazz musician. Her career began when she was just 12 in 1922, and she played with Duke Ellington and the Washingtonians at the age of 15. By 1925, she joined a band led by John Williams, a saxophonist, who she later married.

Along with writing hundreds of arrangements, Mary Lou Williams recorded over 100 records. She worked with the likes of Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, both big influencers of the genre during the early years. Plus, she earned the nickname “The First Lady of the Jazz Keyboard,” a nod to her unique skill and incredible sound.

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Feb. 1947 (William P. Gottlieb 04251
Billie Holiday, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Feb. 1947
William P. Gottlieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Billie Holiday is largely considered a jazz singer of great renown and one of the most influential jazz singers to ever emerge within the genre. Also known as Lady Day, she began performing in clubs during the 1930s, ultimately getting discovered by producer John Hammond when she was just 18. He paved the road for her career, connecting her with Benny Goodman.

Billie Holiday had a highly expressive and melancholy-tinged vocal quality, along with distinct phrasing. She sang on tracks featuring music from many greats, including Teddy Wilson and Duke Ellington, during her career.

In time, Billie Holiday struck out on her own, creating songs like “Strange Fruit” and “God Bless the Child,” both of which are considered some of her most iconic works. She also frequently sang songs about troubled relationships, many of which resonated with the masses.

Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith in 1936 by Carl Van Vechten
Bessie Smith in 1936
Carl Van Vechten, restored by Adam Cuerden Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A blues and jazz vocalist Bessie Smith was a powerhouse with a soulful quality, leading many to consider her the “Empress of the Blues.” “Downhearted Blues,” a highly popular track she recorded with Columbia Records, sold approximately 800,000 copies, which put her in the spotlight.

While much of her music falls in the blues genre, she often explored other sounds, including jazz and swing. Bessie Smith collaborated with Louis Armstrong on multiple tracks, including “I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle” and “Cold in Hand Blues.”

As the 1920s came to a close, Bessie Smith was the top-earning black performer of the day. Her unique sound continues to captivate even now, easily qualifying her as a legend.

Lil Hardin Armstrong

Louis and Lil Armstrong visit to Israel, April 1959
Lil and Louis Armstrong visit to Israel, April 1959
Boris Carmi /Meitar Collection / National Library of Israel / The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, CC BY 4.0

Lil Hardin Armstrong –also known as Hot Miss Lil – was a jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader. During the early days of jazz, she was easily one of the most prominent female forces. Along with propelling her own career forward, she had a significant impact on the career of her husband, famed musician Louis Armstrong.

Along with writing songs and performing with her husband, Lil Hardin Armstrong was also his manager. Additionally, she played on many early jazz recordings, giving tracks her unique flare.

Carmen McRae

Carmen McRae, jazz vocalist, and accomplished pianist

One of the most influential jazz vocalists during the early days of the genre, Carmen McRae had a tender and warm quality that deepened the meaning behind any lyrics she sang. Also an accomplished pianist, Carmen McRae often accompanied herself during the early part of her career. She sang alongside renowned performers and bands like Count Basie, Benny Carter, and Mercer Ellington.

One of her most notable recordings included her work with Louis Armstrong on The Real Ambassadors. Carmen McRae also made many television and film appearances, including a performance in Roots: The Next Generation.

Blanche Calloway

composing music

A vocalist, composer, and bandleader, Blanche Calloway made her mark on the jazz genre. Additionally, she’s broadly recognized as the first black female leader of a successful, otherwise all-male jazz orchestra that operated under her own name.

Along with her Joy Boys, Blanche Calloway had a strong career during the 1930s, and her fame only continued to grow. In 1931, a reviewer of her work considered her one of the most progressive performers in the music space. While her orchestra disbanded in 1938, the mark she made was undeniable. She also spent time in an all-female band for a short period during World War II before retiring from performing in 1944.

FAQs About the Women of Jazz

Who Is the Most Famous Female Jazz Singer?

President Ronald Reagan and Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald with President Ronald Reagan After Performing for King Juan Carlos I of Spain in The East Room
Series: Reagan White House Photographs, 1/20/1981 – 1/20/1989 Collection: White House

Generally speaking, Ella Fitzgerald is potentially the most famous female jazz singer of all time. She’s often referred to as the “Queen of Jazz” and the “First Lady of Song,” both nods to her exceptional talent and overall appeal as a singer.

After the emergence of the Verve record label, which was created specifically to showcase her, Ella Fitzgerald experienced success far beyond her earlier days. It gave her the room to genuinely share her talent with less restriction, allowing Ella Fitzgerald to truly emerge as a great.

However, it’s critical not to overlook other exceptional names in the genre. Billie Holiday had a soulful quality and unique way of communicating through music that allowed her to stand out dramatically. There was also an autobiographical tinge to her music, which let others easily connect to her songs, giving her a unique place in jazz history.

Billie Holiday historical marker at 1409 Lombard St Philadelphia PA
Billie Holiday historical marker at 1409 Lombard St Philadelphia PA

What Was It Like for Women in Jazz?

Many women in jazz faced a wide array of challenges, particularly during the genre’s early years. Sexism and discrimination were an issue, and many women who were poised to make their mark on jazz saw their careers grind to a halt as a result.

One prime example of what women encountered, as discussed by KQED, was a 1938 editorial that appeared in Downbeat magazine. The piece was titled “Why Women Musicians Are Inferior,” and referred to women as the “weaker sex” and suggested they weren’t “born capable” of producing great music.

Of course, that’s just a single example of what female jazz singers, instrumentalists, and composers battled against. There was a notion that women in jazz didn’t measure up. While some exceptions were seemingly made for singers and pianists, players of other instruments and composers faced extreme challenges when it came to making their way into bands and securing other opportunities.

Ultimately, saying the road was difficult is a massive understatement, and a slew of talented female musicians likely never got the shot they deserved. While the landscape has since changed, this essentially means the genre isn’t precisely what it could have been if women didn’t face the challenges they did when jazz emerged, making it a critical point to ponder.

Who Was the First Female Jazz Pianist?

mary lou williams
Mary Lou WIlliams
William P. Gottlieb (1917-2006), photographer – Restored by Adam Cuerden, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Overall, it’s challenging to determine precisely who the first female jazz pianist was, as not all of the women who contributed to the genre during the early days received the recognition they deserved. However, Mary Lou Williams is broadly considered one of the first, particularly when it came to achieving success as a musician in jazz. She began working professionally in 1922 and was only 12 at the time. Over the course of her career, she collaborated with many other greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, Jack Teagarden, and many more.

Additionally, Mary Lou Williams was one of just three women that appeared in A Great Day in Harlem, an iconic photograph taken by Art Kane. The other two women in the photo were Marian McPartland and Maxine Sullivan, a pianist and a vocalist, respectively.

What Is Latin Jazz?

what is jazz music

Jazz comes in a variety of flavors, each with unique characteristics and its own passionate fan base. Latin jazz is a vibrant part of the jazz community, a lively variant with what Jelly Roll Morton described as a “Spanish tinge.”

All forms of jazz come with an intriguing history and sound, and Latin jazz is no exception. If you’d like to learn more about Latin jazz, here’s a look at the Latin jazz definition, influences, rhythms, history, and more.

cuban musicians

What Is Latin Jazz?

Latin jazz is a fusion of jazz and Cuban and Spanish Caribbean music. At times, it’s even referred to as Afro-Cuban jazz due to these early influences, though some consider it a subgenre within the broader Latin jazz.

Within the jazz community, Latin jazz is viewed as one of the most vibrant and lively jazz subgenres. Latin beats are highly danceable and classically upbeat, giving them a sense of life and fun. However, the sound is also surprisingly diverse, employing a range of rhythms that were popular in Latin and South America, as well as the Caribbean, during the time of Latin jazz’s formation.

What Defines Latin Jazz?

In general, what defines Latin jazz is the use of Cuban and Spanish Caribbean rhythms alongside traditional American jazz instruments and musical approaches. There isn’t a single rhythm required for a song to qualify as Latin jazz. Instead, any base rhythm that’s traditionally a part of Latin music – including some with African inspirations – is considered part of the overall genre.

Aside from the various rhythms, one of the key Latin jazz characteristics is a greater emphasis on percussion. While drums were always a part of jazz, their significance is stronger in Latin and Caribbean music. Additionally, a wider array of percussion instruments are present in Latin jazz than you find in traditional variants.


What Influenced Latin Jazz?

Generally speaking, Latin jazz music is a fusion of American jazz and Latin American and Caribbean rhythms. It rose to prominence in two port cities thriving during the early 20th century: New York City and New Orleans. Many early Latin jazz artists also incorporated African rhythmic patterns, leading to the subgenre Afro-Cuban jazz.

New York City is generally considered the city where Latin jazz originated, as it was a popular destination for newly arriving Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Latin Americans. However, Latin rhythms also made their way into the New Orleans jazz sound.

What Rhythm Is Latin Jazz Based On?

While there isn’t a single Latin jazz rhythm that all musicians within the genre follow, certain ones are incredibly common. One rhythm du jour during the early 20th century was Cuban habanera rhythm, which features a syncopated four-beat pattern.

While Latin jazz was originally influenced primarily by Cuban and Spanish Caribbean rhythms, other sounds began making their way into the genre as interest in this type of music spread. For example, bossa nova – a blend between jazz and samba – is another popular rhythm. It’s highly influenced by musical stylings originating from Brazil, featuring Brazilian rhythms mixed with jazz harmonies.

Since Latin America and the Caribbean consist of more than 30 countries, the rhythms you can find in Latin jazz vary. Bolero, cha-cha-cha, mambo, rumba, samba, and many more sounds are present within the broader landscape.

What’s the Difference Between Jazz and Latin Jazz?


The primary difference between traditional American jazz and Latin jazz is that Latin jazz styles feature Cuban, Caribbean, and Latin American music. The resulting sound is highly energetic, typically having a more dance-friendly feel.

In many cases, the pitch in Latin jazz also has a higher register when compared to more traditional versions. However, that isn’t necessarily a requirement in Latin jazz, so the registers can also be similar.

You’ll also find instruments in Latin jazz that aren’t used in traditional jazz. While drum kits, basses, saxophones, and trumpets are practically universal in jazz, Latin jazz music can also include timbales, claves, congas, bongos, and other instruments popular in Cuba, Latin America, and Africa.

What Are the Types of Latin Jazz?

As with jazz as a whole, there are multiple Latin jazz subgenres. While Latin jazz is at times referred to as Afro-Cuban jazz, some treat Afro-Cuban jazz as its own subgenre. Cuban rhythmic patterns are considered clave-based and include rhythms like the cha-cha-cha, mambo, rumba, and songo.

Afro-Brazilian jazz is another category within the broader Latin jazz landscape. You’ll find baiao, bossa nova, partido alto, and samba here. With Caribbean jazz, you’ll see calypso and merengue rhythms. There’s also Afro-Puerto Rican jazz music, which has bomba and plena influences.

However, those aren’t the only versions. Another example is Afro-Peruvian jazz, which stemmed from Africans brought to Peru by Spanish colonists. It blends in West African influences with local sounds, including instruments like the Peruvian Cajon and Quijada de burro.

What Are the Main Instruments in Latin Jazz?

afro cuban percussion

Latin jazz instruments primarily include those you’d find in more traditional forms of American jazz. Trumpets, saxophones, drum kits, basses, and similar classics are often present. However, you’ll also find instruments that reflect the Latin influences in the genre, particularly percussion instruments.

Since Latin jazz comes in various types, the instruments present vary. Congas and bongos are occasionally used, as well as claves, guiros, and timbales. You might hear cowbells or cajons, as well as maracas.

The History of Latin Jazz

As with any music genre, the history of Latin jazz is intriguing. Here’s a look at the origins of Latin jazz, how it evolved, and who’s considered the founder of Latin jazz.

Where Did Latin Jazz Originate?

mario bauzá
By Enrique Cervera – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

Latin jazz is a fusion genre that developed as various cultures integrated into the United States during the early 20th century. Some say that the journey began during the big band era, as large bands began using Afro-Cuban rhythms like congas and rumbas in their music. However, those songs were solely a foundation, serving as a broad introduction to the sounds of Cuba and the Spanish Caribbean for many.

Similarly, Latin American musical influences were present in New Orleans early in the 20th century, leading to the adoption of the syncopated rhythm that’s classically part of the city’s early jazz sound. During that time, Jelly Roll Morton – a renowned composer and pianist of the era – described the influences as a “Spanish tinge.” Rhythms like Cuban habanera were increasingly present, though the Latin sounds were mostly viewed as influences instead of full fusion.

When it comes to the earliest incarnations of genre-defining Latin jazz, most feel it emerged in New York City in 1940. Machito and the Afro-Cubans – under the direction of Mario Bauzá, a Cuban-born trumpet player – the band distinctly blended jazz with Latin beats. Many feel that “Tangá,” one of the band’s first hits, was the first song released that aligns with the genre, essentially making it the original example of old Latin jazz.

In short order, other musicians began fusing jazz with various Latin-inspired beats. Dizzy Gillespie commonly used Afro-Cuban dance rhythms, leading to the development of bebop in time. Chano Pozo similarly played a role in developing what was soon dubbed Afro-Cuban jazz or Cubop. In fact, their collaboration – “Manteca” – quickly became a standard during the era.

How Did Latin Jazz Evolve?

The development of the genre continued into the 1950s. However, public sentiment began to shift, leading to the end of the once-popular big band era. At that time, Afro-Cuban jazz gained a new name, Latin jazz, with smaller bands adopting the sound. Both Cal Tjader and George Shearing were considered leaders of this new trend, particularly on the west coast.

The music continued to shift as more musicians embraced it. For decades, Conga and bongo drum players became a big part of the genre, while Tito Puente introduced many listeners to timbales and the vibraphone.

Interest in Latin jazz also spread south. One of the first distinct forms of South American jazz was bossa nova, which developed in Brazil during the 1960s and made its way to North America.

Latin jazz maintained its popularity well beyond that, with Irakere being a leader in the 1970s and Thelonious Monk and the Fort Apache Band in the 1980s. Ultimately, the genre maintains momentum even today, allowing this form of fusion to continue evolving.

Who Was the Founder of Latin Jazz?

Admittedly, there’s some debate regarding the founder of Latin jazz. Most, understandably, give that credit to Mario Bauzá, as “Tangá” is typically viewed as the emergence of the then-new sound.

However, others played a critical role during the early development of Latin Jazz. For example, Candido Camero – a Cuban percussionist – is also considered a father of Latin Jazz. He played a significant part in the genre’s emergence in New York, collaborating with greats like Machito, Dizzy Gillespie, and Tito Puente.

Additionally, most credit Dizzy Gillespie for introducing Afro-Cuban jazz to the masses. His work with Chano Pozo and Candido Camero attracted mainstream attention, allowing the genre to reach a new audience.

Famous Latin Jazz Artists

tito puente exhibit
By Marine 69-71 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, 

Many Latin jazz artists are recognized for their contributions to music, not just the genre. Many consider Mario Bauzá the founder of Latin jazz, as he was largely responsible for the first genre-defining song, which Machito and the Afro-Cubans performed.

Dizzy Gillespie’s work with Chano Pozo and Candido Camero is considered genre-defining and brought Latin jazz to a broader audience. Essentially, Dizzy Gillespie is recognized for popularizing the sound, allowing it to gain better traction across the United States and other countries.

Kenny Dorham was part of the evolving Cubop scene, adding nuance and details that other artists didn’t previously explore. Israel “Cachao” Lopez was a strong influencer during the 1950s, embracing sophisticated and vibrant Cuban influences.

Band leader Cal Tjader brought in some west coast flair, creating a unique and striking sound. Luiz Bonfa brought in a more Brazilian sound after becoming enamored with bossa nova. During the 1970s, Irakere maintained influences from its Cuban roots while adding unique flavors, including some bordering on psychedelic rock.

Of course, you can’t overlook Tito Puente. For many, he was considered the face of Latin Music in America, and some call him the godfather of Latin jazz and salsa.

However, these are just some of the famous Latin jazz artists. Plus, many modern musicians continue to explore and expand the genre, keeping the world of Latin jazz alive and thriving.


9 Gifts for the Jazz Lover

9 gifts for the jazz lover

The holiday season is upon us, causing many people to start building their gift lists for the upcoming season. If you have a jazz fan in your life, jazz-themed gifts are an excellent option.

Along with showing how well you know the person, there are plenty of incredible – and even some unconventional – gifts for jazz enthusiasts available. If you aren’t sure where to begin, here are nine gifts for the jazz lover to add to your list.

9 Gifts for the Jazz Lover

1. Vinyl Record Collector Logbook

Many jazz lovers prefer vinyl when they play music. A Vinyl Record Collector Logbook is an ideal gift if you have a family member or friend with a growing vinyl collection, especially once they’ve already acquired the best jazz albums!

This is one of the best gifts for jazz fans because it lets them track their album collection. They can easily list the genre, artist, title, release year, and date of purchase. Plus, they can add a personal review, allowing them to note their favorites or discuss the general vibe of the record.

Another benefit is this gift helps your jazz music lover avoid accidentally buying a duplicate. It’s a quick and easy tracking option with an analog feel that seems appropriate for vinyl collectors.

2. Historic Photos of New Orleans Jazz

Historic Photos of New Orleans Jazz is another one of the fantastic gifts for jazz music lovers. It includes a collection of rare photographs features in the Jazz Collection at the Louisiana State Museum, serving as a visual record of jazz in New Orleans.

Along with stunning images, there’s information about the history of jazz music in the region. Plus, it discusses the various artists, making this a solid choice for long-standing jazz fans or those who are just starting to explore the genre. Featuring 200 pages of images and text, this book is sure to contain pictures and facts that are new to the reader, allowing them to discover more about the music they adore regardless of their existing knowledge.

3. Maison Martin Margiela Replica Jazz Club Eau De Toilette

One of the great gifts for jazz lovers who also enjoy unique scents is the Maison Martin Margiela Replica Jazz Club eau de toilette. The various scent notes are designed to align with aromas classically associated with the Brooklyn jazz clubs of yore. You’ll pick up the scents of vanilla and musk, coupled with tobacco aromas reminiscent of cigars. There are also hints of cocktails and leather.

This is a potent eau de toilette, so a little goes a long way. Plus, the scent lingers after application, so there’s little need to reapply during the day. While the scent profile leans masculine, it can also be appropriate for women who enjoy the scent profile.

4. The Jazz Experience Coloring Book for Adults

Coloring is often a meditative, relaxing experience, which led to the rise in coloring books designed for adults. If you’re looking for gift ideas for jazz lovers, Jazz Experience Coloring Book for Adults is a must. It features a variety of images, including some focused on instruments and others featuring performers.

One nice feature of this coloring book is that the back of each coloring page is black, reducing the odds of ink bleeding if the recipient uses markers or pens. There are 20 images to color, and depending on the result, pages could be removed and framed to create art for their home. Couple the book with a nice set of colored pencils or markers, giving the recipient everything they need to enjoy the gift.

5. Louis Armstrong Poster

One of the best jazz-related gifts for a family member or friend who enjoys displaying jazz-oriented art is the Louis Armstrong poster. This concert poster reflects the era’s style, but since it’s a fresh print, it doesn’t show signs of age. The 8×10-inch size also means it’s easy to fit into small spaces or could work as part of a photo collage wall.

While the color palette is striking, thanks to the large amount of reddish-orange, it isn’t overwhelming either. The rest of the poster is black and cream, adding enough neutral elements to create balance. Put the print in a classic black frame, and you have an outstanding gift.

6. Vintage Jazz Musician Photo Set

Another one of the best gifts for jazz lovers looking for wall décor is this Vintage Jazz Musician photo set. It includes four separate images featuring Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday, each printed in black and white.

The photos are 11×14 inches, so it’s easy to find suitably sized frames. Since the images are black and white, you can choose classic black frames or opt for more color. Matting is also an option to draw more attention to the photographs.

Since two of the photos are landscape and two are portrait, it’s easy to hang the photos to make them form a square. However, they can also be integrated into a photo collage wall, making them versatile.

7. Victrola 8-in-1 Bluetooth Record Player & Multimedia Center

One of the more unique gifts for jazz lovers that combines current technology and vintage vibes is the Victrola 8-in-1 Bluetooth Record Player & Multimedia Center. It allows the jazz fan in your life to listen to their favorite music in nearly every format. This solution not only plays vinyl; it also has a CD player, cassette player, radio, USB drive input, and Bluetooth connectivity. Speakers are also built-in for added convenience and sound quality.

However, the player maintains the classic Victrola feel even with all the media options. It features genuine wood construction and traditional features, giving it a vintage vibe. Plus, it allows people to record from vinyl to mp3s (with the required software included), allowing the recipient to create digital music files of their favorite albums.

8. Brass Alto Saxophone Ornament

If you’re looking for simple but stylish Christmas gifts for jazz lovers, the Brass Alto Saxophone Ornament by Broadway Gifts is an outstanding option. The design is classic and vibrant, guaranteeing it’ll be an eye-catcher on any Christmas tree. Plus, it’s highly detailed, making it almost look playable even in its 5-inch form factor.

Along with brass, this ornament features genuine wood and other metals, improving the overall look. Plus, it comes boxed, making it highly giftable. The company also produces ornaments based on a wide array of other instruments using the same high-quality materials, giving you the option to gift additional companion pieces or even an entire band’s worth of instruments.

9. Metal Sax Wine Rack

If you’re on the hunt for jazz gift ideas that also work for wine lovers, the Metal Sax Wine Rack is a perfect choice. The wine bottle holder is a wire-based design that resembles a saxophone.

The rack features metal components and has a slight avant-garde feel, which feels particularly appropriate for a jazz-themed gift. Plus, it’s sturdy and well-balanced, so the recipient doesn’t have to worry about the wine bottle causing it to tip.

Another benefit is that this wine bottle holder looks excellent when holding wine or empty. Plus, it’s easy to take this gift up a notch by including a bottle of the recipient’s favorite wine, allowing them to enjoy the piece and an excellent bottle of wine in a single gift.

9 Top Jazz Festivals Around the World

jazz festivals

Jazz exists in many forms. It can be relaxing, upbeat, slow, fast, erratic, and many other variations. The best jazz music can transport a listener to a different time and place, wringing every ounce of emotion out of them before bringing them back to the present.

Finding these experiences involves making other, more physical journeys. The best place to find the latest and greatest jazz is at one of the many jazz festivals held annually around the world. If you are inclined to travel and love jazz at its finest, check out our list of the top jazz music festivals around the world.

9 Top Jazz Festivals Around the World

1. The Copenhagen Jazz Festival

The Copenhagen Jazz Festival is held near the start of summer – typically beginning in late June or early July – each year in Denmark. In 2022, it ran longer than usual, starting on June 24 and continuing until July 10. In 2023, it’ll be slightly briefer, beginning on June 30 and running through July 9.

This event has been held since 1979, making it one of the most distinguished jazz festivals in Europe and one of the most famous jazz festivals around the world. It has something for every jazz lover, hosting over 1,300 concerts featuring a slew of styles. Plus, there are kid- and family-friendly activities, allowing visitors to enjoy far more than great music.

If you’re looking for outstanding accommodations, here are some options in Copenhagen that are worth considering:

Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Foto: Kristoffer Juel Poulsen
Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Foto: Kristoffer Juel Poulsen (Courtesy Jazz.dk)

2. The Clearwater Jazz Holiday

The Clearwater Jazz Holiday has also been held since 1979 in Clearwater, Florida. This is a world-class, multi-day celebration of jazz that’s held every October (October 14-16 in 2022), often hosting over thirty-five thousand visitors.

This event is held at Coachman Park and features a combination of great artists performing in a wide variety of jazz styles that are sure to inspire and delight jazz fans from all over the world. Because of the beautiful Florida beaches, the warm Florida sun, and amazing jazz, this is one of the top jazz festivals to attend.

When it comes to accommodations, Clearwater has plenty to offer. Here are some options you may want to explore:

3. The Java Jazz Festival

The Java Jazz Festival has been held for more than ten years in Jakarta, Indonesia. While the event previously took place in March, it was scheduled from May 27 to May 29, 2022.

This event is considered the biggest jazz festival in the Southern Hemisphere. The Java Jazz Festival features popular Indonesian jazz artists and international greats from all across the globe. The lineups often have some of the biggest names in jazz, and the country itself is breathtakingly beautiful, which is why this is one of the most popular international jazz festivals.

Finding great accommodations for this jazz festival is also a breeze. Here are some stellar options:

person playing saxophone

4. The Montreal International Jazz Festival

The Montreal International Jazz Festival isn’t just one of the top jazz festivals in the world; it’s officially the largest jazz festival in the world, too. The event holds the Guinness World Record for hosting more than 1.9 million jazz fans during its 25th-anniversary celebration, cementing its place in history.

The event is held annually, starting in June and running into July in Quebec, Canada. For 2023, the dates will be June 19-July 8.

For many people, this is easily one of the best jazz festivals for anyone who wants to experience more of what the genre has to offer. This festival has stood the test of time, as it’s been going since the early 1980s. Typically, this long-lasting festival features upwards of three thousand artists from thirty-plus countries. You are sure to find your favorite jazz artists at The Montreal International Jazz Festival.

If you want to make sure your accommodations are conveniently located for the festival, here are some options:

5. The Montreux Jazz Festival

The Montreux Jazz Festival takes place in Switzerland, usually starting in late June or early July. In 2023, the event will begin on June 30, running through July 15.

This event is one of the biggest jazz festivals, coming in second only to Canada’s Montreal International Jazz Festival. The Montreux Jaz Festival attracts between two hundred and three hundred thousand people every year, all of whom come to enjoy fantastic music and a sense of camaraderie.

This grand event was founded in 1967, causing many to view it as one of the more traditional jazz festivals. However, that isn’t a comment on the music or amenities, as you’ll find modern conveniences and nearly every jazz style represented here.

For great accommodations for your stay in Switzerland, consider these options:

6. The XJazz Berlin Festival

The XJazz Berlin Festival is a newer event, first occurring in May 2014. However, it quickly became a favorite among jazz fans and is often considered one of the best jazz festivals in the world for anyone who enjoys boundary-pushing, innovative jazz music.

This event brings together an eclectic array of jazz artists and attendees every May, giving this festival a unique edge. If you’d like to experience it firsthand, plan to be in Berlin between May 10 and 14, 2023, and make sure to scoop up your tickets in advance.

If you’re looking for a great place to stay in Berlin, here are some options for accommodations:

XJAZZ Berlin festival
XJAZZ Berlin (Photo: XJAZZ / Ulla C. Binder)

7. The Eltham Jazz, Food & Wine Festival

When it comes to jazz festivals in Australia, the Eltham Jazz, Food & Wine Festival is considered by many to be one of the top jazz festivals in the world. It features incredible music, delectable food, and magnificent wine, making the total experience absolutely stellar.

Usually, this event – which is scheduled for February 25-26, 2023 – features mainly local jazz artists, making it an excellent option for anyone who wants to explore the Australian jazz scene. Plus, the Eltham Jazz, Food & Wine Festival is a free, child-friendly event, so this jazz festival could take your Australian vacation to the next level.

If you’re coming in from another city or country and want some local accommodations, here are some excellent options:

8. Manly Jazz Festival

With stages set up alongside Manly Beach in Australia, the Manly Jazz Festival is another fantastic event for jazz fans. Along with traditional jazz artists, you’ll find a lot of jazz fusion at this event, making it a fun way to explore new styles. In 2022, this event will take place on September 24-25.

You also have plenty of options for outstanding accommodations. Here are some to consider:

9. Cancun Jazz Fest

From November 6-8, 2022 (with a post-night concert on November 9), you can enjoy the Cancun Jazz Festival. You can enjoy a wide array of jazz artists in a breathtakingly beautiful setting. Whether you prefer smooth jazz or jazz with a bit of soul, there’s something for you.

Finding a great place to stay in Cancun isn’t too challenging. If you want to get started with your search, here are some accommodations you might want to explore:

sign that says cancun

BONUS: 4 USA Jazz Festivals

After exploring some of the best jazz festivals around the world, you might want to see some of the best of what the USA offers. Overall, there are several top jazz festivals in the USA, with amazing events happening all across the country.

If you’re looking for some of the best jazz festivals in the US, here are four that easily qualify:

Now it’s your turn. What is your favorite jazz festival and why

What Is Jazz Fusion?

When it comes to music genres, jazz fusion has long been a favorite of jazz enthusiasts and general music fans alike. It’s a unique music category that enjoys pushing boundaries and making unexpected moves, creating a compelling sound while embracing multi-genre influences.

If you aren’t familiar with the jazz fusion definition, it’s common to be curious about how it stands apart from other music categories, including standard jazz music itself and the genres serving as influences. If you’re wondering, “What is fusion jazz?” or “when did jazz fusion start?” and you would like to learn more about this amazing genre, here’s what you need to know.

What Is Jazz Fusion?

In the simplest sense, jazz fusion is a music genre that incorporates aspects of other music styles into songs. For example, some jazz fusion characteristics may have been influenced by rock music, funk, or hip-hop, though the base style always has jazz elements. For example, improvisation is often a core element regardless of the other influences.

When it comes to jazz fusion instruments, you’ll get jazz classics like acoustic guitars, pianos, trumpets, saxophones, basses, and drums. However, the overall mix may also include electronic instruments, including synthesizers, drum machines, electric guitars, and other instruments more commonly found in different genres.

In many cases, jazz fusion is purely instrumental or, at a minimum, doesn’t have incredibly well-defined lyrics. That creates more room for improvisation, as set lyrics usually require a particular melody at key moments within a song.

When there are vocals, it’s usually vocalizations only. With those, the singer uses only vowel sounds or nonsense words to create a sense of melody without adding formal lyrics. Since they don’t have to use specific phrasing, it leaves enough room to adjust to improvisations from other band members.

What Fusion Jazz Sounds Like

Often, you can get a basic idea of what fusion jazz sounds like by understanding how most fusion jazz originally came together. First, its foundation is always in jazz, with classic instruments and structural approaches serving as a basis.

Next, it brings in rock instruments, introducing electric elements that aren’t present in traditional jazz. Finally, some of the original jazz-fusion bands brought funk rhythms into the mix while leaving enough room for improvisation.

The improvisation factor makes describing the sound of jazz fusion challenging. Even if you’re familiar with every instrument and the base rhythms of jazz and funk, the fact that every band member can head in a near-endless number of directions makes it hard to describe past that point. As a result, fusion jazz is mainly something that must be experienced to gain a stronger understanding.

The History of Jazz Fusion

person playing trumpet

Jazz fusion history is actually very intriguing. Its origins mainly date back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when jazz-rock began to make its mark on the music scene.

Throughout the 1970s, jazz fusion’s popularity grew, serving as a counterpoint to the more radio-friendly smooth jazz. There was a substantial emphasis on experimentation and improvisation, bringing in unexpected elements to keep listeners on their toes.

Largely, that mentality remains today. However, the fusion elements often change over the years. While the original emphasis was on classic rock music and fun, you’ll see an increasing number of potential influences as pop music becomes more of a melting pot and subgenres within the existing categories continue to emerge.

When it comes to influential figures, Miles Davis played a big role in the evolution and expansion of jazz fusion. While initially a bebop sensation, he was also a fan of experimentation and enjoyed introducing sounds and technologies with roots in other genres. Since Miles Davis was also a prolific collaborator, that view of music spread quickly.

Guitarists Larry Coryell and John McLaughlin also played a role, taking electric guitar prowess and mixing it with jazz harmonies. Keyboardists Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Joe Zawinul also had similar parts in advancing the genre, along with bassist Dave Holland and drummers Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, and Tony Williams.

Top Jazz Fusion Songs

Ultimately, which songs qualify as some of the best of jazz fusion is a bit subjective. Every person has unique tastes and may favor certain sounds over others. This is particularly true among those who prefer new jazz fusion over classic jazz fusion, as the two sounds can be surprisingly far apart.

However, whether you enjoy early-stage or modern jazz fusion songs, most genre fans agree that certain ones stand apart and are hallmarks of jazz fusion. As a result, they can be good starting points for anyone taking their first steps into the genre or great additions to the playlists of anyone who’s already a fan.

Here is a list of some of the top jazz fusion songs, based on general popularity and in alphabetical order:

Best Jazz Fusion Albums

For those new to the genre, checking out some of the best jazz fusion albums and jazz musicians of all time can be a great way to explore this style of music and get a grip on its origins. Plus, it can help you see what shaped modern jazz fusion, which can be surprisingly enlightening overall.

As with the top jazz fusion songs listed above, which album is considered the best is mainly subjective. Everyone has their preferences, so many people would disagree about which is number one. 

However, the options listed below are essentially universally respected by genre fans, which is why most would agree that they’re at least among the top albums ever created.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the best jazz fusion albums, based on general popularity and in alphabetical order:

  1. Chick Corea – Return to Forever
  2. Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters
  3. Eddie Henderson – Realization
  4. Frank Zappa – Hot Rats
  5. Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin – The Inner Mounting Flame
  6. Miles Davis – In a Silent Way
  7. Soft Machine – Third
  8. The Mothers – The Grand Wazoo
  9. Wayne Shorter – Supernova
  10. Weather Report – Heavy Weather

Best Way to Listen to Jazz Fusion

listening to jazz fusion

Since jazz fusion embraces improvisation, unexpected elements usually make it an odd listening experience for someone new to jazz music at large. As a result, you may want to use a particular technique as you explore the genre.

First, try listening to the song or album without any other distractions, allowing you to focus. Then, consider repeating the same song several times and, with each listen, choose a particular instrument and really tune into the role it’s playing.

Finally, focus on the enjoyment. Sometimes, having a bit of the unexpected can fundamentally alter how you view music, piquing your curiosity and making you wonder about the possibilities. By embracing that, you can have fun regardless of how you feel about individual songs, as you’re getting the most you can out of the broader experience.

5 Best Jazz Albums of All Time

Jazz has been experiencing a resurgence. While many have loyally followed the genre for decades, a younger audience is also embracing this eclectic, expressive music.

Regardless of which group you fall into (or if you’re somewhere in between), spending time with the best jazz albums of all time is never a mistake. It can help you learn about the history of the genre and experience its evolution first hand. At times, it means opening yourself up to a moving experience, committing your attention to a wild and varied journey through the music.

But what makes a great jazz album? And which ones are the best? Here’s a look at what you need to know.

What Makes a Best Jazz Album of All Time?

If you asked any jazz fan for their top jazz albums of all time, you’d likely get a different list. The trick is, taste is somewhat subjective. Plus, listening to every album ever created is essentially impossible, so nearly every listener has gaps in their knowledge, whether they like to admit it or not.

But, for the purposes of this list, the goal was to focus on releases by leading musicians who made groundbreaking contributions to the genre. In part, this means looking at both enjoyability and the album’s significance. Plus, there’s a sprinkling of personal opinion, as being entirely subjective would be an incredibly tall ask for something like jazz.

If you are wondering which jazz albums are almost universally worth a listen, here are five of the best jazz albums ever created.

5 Best Jazz Albums of All Time

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue

When it comes to a timeless classic, it’s hard to beat Kind of Blue from quintessential jazz musician Miles Davis. While the album turned 60 in 2019, it’s as engaging today as it was when it first released. Along with Miles, the album features the musical stylings of other jazz greats, including Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane. Throughout, the vibe is relaxed but intriguing, making it ideal for anyone who wants to enjoy an album that really marked a historical moment in the genres’ history.

John Coltrane: A Love Supreme

Speaking of John Coltrane, A Love Supreme is often considered the origin of the spiritual jazz subgenre. It’s still considered a profoundly influential album, using jazz to explore concepts it had yet to tap in such a meaningful way. The music plays out like a journey, taking the listener along for an unexpected ride. At points, the emotional peaks are practically overwhelming in their intensity, but also fully satisfying. Many listeners may feel wholly spent at the end, but would typically agree that the exhaustion is well worth it.

Chick Corea: Return to Forever

Featuring a rich and highly textured sound, Return to Forever is another album that is as much about the journey as it is the destination. There’s an almost opulence to much of the experience, with the music swirling around like mental syrup. Every track is an enveloping adventure, making it a worthwhile listen for any jazz fan.

Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um

Featuring a mix of energetic songs and soothing ballads, Mingus Ah Um is as unpredictable as its fiery-tempered creator was often said to be. Plus, with the addition of “Fables of Faubus,” the album has a degree of political edginess, allowing listeners to reflect on a time when racial tensions and school integration were at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Plus, it’s a solid reflection of Charles’s unique style, making it a worthwhile addition to have in any jazz aficionados’ collection or playlist.

Cannonball Adderley: Somethin’ Else

Along with being one of the best small group ensemble jazz albums ever recorded, Somethin’ Else is considered by many to be Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s strongest outing. The alto saxophonist is accompanied by the likes of Miles Davis (a rare instance where he took a sideman role) as well as Art Blakey, Hank Jones, and Sam Jones.

Tips for Listening to These Amazing Jazz Albums

While you can technically listen to jazz anywhere, if you want to fully experience what these albums offer, it doesn’t hurt to take some extra steps. For example, finding a quiet space to play the music that provides strong acoustics can be wise. Otherwise, you might want to opt for high-quality headphones, ensuring you can hear every nuance as it strolls by.

If you have the opportunity, consider snagging vinyl copies of the albums above. Many consider the musical experience far superior, even if it isn’t always the most convenient format to use. But that isn’t technically necessary, as many find that digital is a suitable substitute.

Above all, make sure you strive to create your ideal experience. Jazz is often about meaning moved, surprised, and inspired, so consider what your perfect experience looks like and work to craft it. That way, it’s the best approach for you, and that is really what matters.

10 Up-and-Coming Jazz Musicians to Watch

While jazz already has a long and storied history, that doesn’t mean it ever stopped evolving. Innovators reshape the genre regularly, introducing the world to unique sounds and astonishing skills, unlike anything that’s been witnessed before.

As the third decade of the 21st-century begins, many young jazz musicians are doing more than paying homage to jazz’s roots; they are creating something new and exciting. They are the future of the genre and are ensuring that jazz remains as relevant and enticing as it always was.

Whether you are a fan of jazz already or are new to its nuanced and eclectic sound, you’ll find these young musicians electrifying. Here’s a look at ten up-and-coming jazz musicians to watch today.

1. Shabaka Hutchings

Shabaka Hutchings was born in London but raised in Barbados, and became an award-winning player who can transition between the clarinet and saxophone with a startling amount of ease. While he started out in calypso bands, he transitioned, becoming a bastion in the UK contemporary jazz scene.

Currently, he leads three separate bands. Possibly the most intriguing is The Comet is Coming, a unique trio that blends jazz, electronic music, and a whole lot of attitude to create something futuristic that will likely alter the course of several genres.

2. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

Hailing from New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s trumpet playing is awe-inspiring. While his music respects the origins of jazz, it also includes a variety of influences. He fuses jazz with hip-hop, African music, rock, and more. It seems his goal is to always keep the listener on the edge of their seat, and he accomplishes it in spades.

3. Kamasi Washington

Jazz has been connecting with a younger audience in recent years, and Kamasi Washington is one of the musicians responsible. In 2015, he released The Epic, an inspirational triple-set that has strong jazz roots with hip-hop influences. He even made an appearance on To Pimp A Butterfly, an innovative album by Kendrick Lamar.

4. Esperanza Spalding

With a voice reminiscent of a young Joni Mitchell, Esperanza Spalding isn’t just a talented jazz musician, but an innovator. Her compositions genuinely take the listener on an unexpected journey, weaving together jazz, Latin, rock, and funk sounds into an avant-garde fusion experience unlike any other.

Makaya McCraven

Paris-born but raised in the United States, Makaya McCraven is a self-proclaimed “beat scientist” with serous drum skills and a talent for composing. He applies a hip-hop attitude to avant-garde jazz, focusing on keeping the listener guessing as he weaves a tune.

6. Nubya Garcia

Another young jazz musician in the UK scene that’s making waves is Nubya Garcia. The tenor saxophone player and composer released a critically acclaimed debut album – Nubya’s 5ive – in 2017 and has continued to impress ever since. She’s also recorded with some greats, including Ezra Collective and Sons of Kemet, as well as Makaya McCraven, another up-and-comer. Additionally, she plays with Maisha, a spiritual jazz ensemble.

7. Camila Meza

Born in Chile, Camila Meza easily qualifies as a triple threat. Along with being an exceptional guitarist and singer, she’s also an accomplished songwriter. Her music features classic jazz elements melded with the sounds of Brazil, South American folk, and even American pop.

8. Kendrick Scott Oracle

With a sound dripping with R&B and hip-hop undertones, Kendrick Scott Oracle is a drummer and composer from Houston. His take on jazz is exquisite but incredibly unique, often featuring unexpected additions, like turntables, alongside traditional instruments like saxophones and pianos.

9. Jazzmeia Horn

With a name like Jazzmeia Horn, it can be easy to see how jazz would ultimately be a calling. The singer from Texas scored rave reviews with her debut album in 2017, A Social Call. Her sound resembles the active approach used by greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae, but it never feels derivative. Instead, Jazzmeia Horn is uniquely her own, and the jazz world will be better for it.

10. Connie Han

Connie Han, a pianist from Los Angeles, exudes a maturity far beyond her age. Her blend of traditional and modern jazz is both edgy and a bit unexpected, a reflection of her unique vision for the genre. Her album Crime Zone pays homage to jazz piano greats like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Kenny Kirkland while still maintaining her own sound, and it’s truly something worth experiencing.

10 Travel Destinations for Jazz-Lovers

Jazz is a world-wide phenomenon. When you want to experience an exceptional jazz performance or festival, there are plenty of cities on the table. Some feel like classic choices, while others seem a bit unexpected. But, nonetheless, they all have something to offer jazz-lovers. If you want to experience the best of jazz, here are ten travel destinations that need to make it onto your list.

1. New Orleans

When you want to experience a rich and historic jazz scene firsthand, you can’t beat the Big Easy. New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and it was the home of world-renown jazz performers like Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong.

Along with amazing venues like Preservation Hall in the French Quarter, you’ll also find a range of smaller clubs that regularly feature live Jazz. Plus, each spring, New Orleans hosts Jazzfest, a seven-day event that draws in some of the genre’s most legendary performers as well as a solid mix of impressive up-and-comers.

New Orleans is undoubtedly one of the must-see travel destinations for jazz-lovers, so it should definitely have a place on your list.

2. Havana

Music is part of daily life in Cuba, and various genres are often combined with traditional Latin sounds to create invigorating pieces that keep energy levels high. In Havana, jazz is prominently featured in these unique fusions. Local bars and restaurants use it to entice locals and travelers to come inside. Street performers use trumpets and Spanish guitar to entertain passersby. Plus, the local culture is incredibly vibrant, making Havana an engaging destination filled fun and music.

3. New York City

New York City has always had an influential music scene, and it played a big role in the world of jazz. Billie Holiday started out at Bill’s Place, a quintessential venue in Harlem. Plus, the Blue Note in Greenwich Village has a storied jazz history. And you can’t ignore the Village Vanguard, a jazz room that has hosted talents like Bill Evans, John Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins.

The city also hosts several jazz festivals. Winter Jazzfest is an exceptional event. Plus, Jazz at Lincoln Center is an experience unlike any other.

4. Paris

The jazz scene in Paris is worth experiencing first-hand. You’ll find jazz bars scattered throughout the city, and clubs like Duc des Lombards have hosted some of the biggest names in jazz, including Kenny Barron and Ahmad Jamal.

Paris also embraces modern and avant-garde jazz sounds, so you might get to hear something that you wouldn’t experience anywhere else. However, there are plenty of jazz clubs that focus on the classics, ensuring there’s something for every kind of jazz-lover around.

5. Montreal

With a jazz history going back to the 1920s, Montreal landed on the jazz scene radar partially due to Prohibition. It was one of few cities where purchasing alcohol was allowed, causing people to come from near and far, establishing Montreal as a jazz center.

The city has maintained its vibrant jazz scene for nearly 100 years. Along with more clubs that one could ever hope to visit in a single trip to the city, Montreal also hosts the International Jazz festival, one of the biggest and more famous events in the jazz world. The 10-day long summer event draws massive crowds, all hoping to hear some of the hundreds of musicians who come in to play.

6. Cape Town

South Africa’s capital city is an amazing jazz-centric destination. Each March, Cape Town hosts its International Jazz Festival, and even that is considered the fourth largest on the planet and the biggest on the continent.

Cape Town also has a range of popular, well-recognized jazz clubs. Along with The Piano Bar, you’ll find Asoka and the West End Jazz club, all of which deserve a visit during your trip.

7. Amsterdam

If you are looking for a rich jazz culture, make sure that Amsterdam is on your itinerary. Along with being a stop on the North Sea Jazz Festival, the city regularly hosts jazz concerts, and there are numerous cafes and bars that focus on the genre.

Once there, make sure to head over to Bourbon Street Blues Café, which pays tribute to New Orleans. Since the venue has Blues Brothers figurines on the roof, it’s pretty easy to spot.

8. Copenhagen

When it comes to summer jazz events, it’s hard to beat Copenhagen. Starting the first Friday in July, the 10-day Copenhagen Jazz Festival hosts more than 1,000 concerts across over 100 venues. Internationally-renown jazz performers, local up-and-comers, and everything in between take part, making it an exceptionally varied event. Plus, many of the concerts are free, so it’s excellent for budget-conscious travelers, too.

9. Jakarta

When it comes to live jazz, don’t overlook Jakarta. The International Java Jazz Festival may be the largest gathering of jazz performers and jazz-lovers in the southern hemisphere. Thousands of artists arrive, offering up more than 100 shows during the event.

10. Kansas City

Kansas City loves jazz. Along with more than 20 venues featuring performances on a regular basis, the city is also home to the American Jazz Museum. The museum has permanent and rotating exhibits, as well as hosts concerts throughout the year, making it a great place to enjoy some music and dive into the genre’s history.

Best Jazz Clubs Around the World

If you love jazz, heading to a jazz club is an excellent way to spend an evening. While being able to experience great music is usually the main goal, the best jazz clubs in the world also offer more than just fantastic music. The atmosphere can play a big role. Similarly, choosing a jazz club with historical significance can make the time spent there even more meaningful.

There are many amazing jazz clubs in the world. If you are looking for the absolute best jazz clubs, here are the ones you need to explore.

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Established in 1959 by a jazz musician, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London is steeped in history. Performers like Miles Davis, Chet Baker, and Ella Fitzgerald have all spent time on the stage here and recorded live albums at the venue. The Late Late Show – a less formal performance after the main show – runs Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, offering a chance to have a less-conventional experience.

best jazz clubs


When it comes to unique jazz club experiences, it is hard to beat Tramjazz in Rome. Instead of a traditional venue, Tramjazz is based in a vintage cable car that moves through the city (and even makes a stop in front of the Colosseum) during twice-weekly performances. Along with great music, you can also enjoy a fantastic meal from the onboard restaurant, which serves traditional dishes. The experience is equal parts cozy and decadent, making it a must for every jazz enthusiasts bucket list.


Bimhuis is a modern architectural marvel. The mainly glass and iron building sides along a river in Amsterdam, offering exceptional views. However, the acoustics are also stellar, and the amphitheater-style seating ensures everyone is able to fully enjoy the experience, both from a hearing and visual perspective.

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge

The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge in Chicago has been around for over a century and even served as a speakeasy during the 1920s. Live music has been at the core of the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge since it opened in 1907, and many flock to this venue. In order to ensure the performance is always the focus, cell phones are not allowed.

jazz clubs

Spotted Cat

When people think of jazz cities, New Orleans inevitably comes to mind. The Spotted Cat is a favorite among locals, offering a mix of jazz, blues, and Latin music that you won’t find anywhere else. Plus, the atmosphere is very high-energy, and the inexpensive drinks make it a more affordable option on a night out. Just keep in mind that the Spotted Cat doesn’t take reservations, so you may need to arrive early, and they have a strict cash-only policy.

Village Vanguard

Many consider New York City a jazz mecca. But, if you want to have a truly exceptional experience, then don’t settle for just any NYC jazz club. Instead, make a trip to Village Vanguard, a small basement venue brimming with history and an intimate atmosphere. Village Vanguard has been operating for over 80 years and has remained largely unchanged even as the decades ticked by.

Preservation Hall

If you want to experience the history of jazz in New Orleans, Preservation Hall is your ideal venue. Walking in gives you a chance to become steeped in the history of the musical genre, hearing live performances focused on the music of Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, and other classic examples of the New Orleans jazz scene.

best jazz clubs in the world

Blue Note

Tokyo’s Blue Note – part of a New York-based jazz club franchise – is a sleek and sophisticated venue that feels incredibly high-end and luxurious. Performers often include the whos-who of American jazz as well as a mix of local talent, including Toshiko Akiyoshi. When it comes to the updated urban jazz experience, Blue Note is a must-see.


The SFJAZZ Center was the first free-standing building in the entire United States to be dedicated solely to the performance and teaching of jazz. Over the course of the year, 300 performances happen at this venue, offering something for every kind of jazz aficionado. Plus, SFJAZZ does more than offer up great music; they also have a community outreach program that helps high schoolers learn the value of community involvement.

Stampen Jazz Bar

Located in Stockholm, Stampen Jazz Bar is an incredibly unique venue. From the ceilings dangle everything a quintessential original jazzman may have owned, ranging from trombones to bicycles to sneakers. Plus, you can enjoy specialty ales while listening to some of the greatest European jazz performers, all while being nestled into a crowd of fellow jazz fans.

Ultimately, all of the jazz clubs above are worth visiting, especially if you are a genuine fan of the musical genre. Each one offers something different but is equally meaningful, ensuring you have the best jazz experience possible whenever you decide to stop by.

Can’t Sit and Play? Tips for Musicians Who Are Always on Their Feet

Tips for Musicians Who Are Always on Their Feet

Whether you play an instrument that practically forces you to stand or you simply like the freedom to run around the stage or get the crowd jumping, spending a ton of time on your feet can be painful. As a musician, you aren’t just contending with your body weight; you have an instrument with you too. So, not only are you dealing with fatigue, but you also have to fight with your posture and carrying something weighty. That’s a lot to ask from your body.

Luckily, there are things you can do to make your time playing significantly more comfortable. Here are some tips for musicians who are always standing.

Master Your Posture

Back, hip, and knee pain can all be a result of bad posture. But you can’t just worry about your posture while you play; it has to be on your mind all of the time.

When you stand, you need to engage your glutes and tilt your pelvis slightly forward. Keep your shoulders down and slightly back, and imagine the crown of your head being pulled up slightly by a string headed toward the sky.

Also, don’t be afraid to alter your position while you play. Getting into a lunge, even a slight one, lets you rely on different muscles than standing straight up. Walking as you play can also help, as long as you keep your back and hips in proper alignment.

Breathe the Right Way

If you don’t exhale fully, you could be throwing your pelvis and ribs into an uncomfortable position. You could incidentally be curving your back into a posteriorly-oriented C-shape, straining your lower back and throwing off your balance, putting weird pressure on your hips and knees.

By learning to exhale fully, you promote better alignment. Plus, if you focus on deep breathing that moves your abdomen instead of your shoulders, you release more tension.

Don’t Lock Your Knees

Have you ever seen a video where groomsman passes out during a wedding? That’s because he locked his knees. The hyperextension for long periods harms blood flow. If the blood pools, your brain might not get enough, causing you to lose consciousness and slam to the floor.

Additionally, the hyperextension can be very uncomfortable in its own right. It throws your knees back, tilting your hips and straining your back.

By keeping a slight bend, it’s easier to stay in proper position. Plus, you won’t have to worry about fainting during a performance.

Invest in Your Shoes

Your feet serve as your base. If they don’t get the support and cushion they need, you are going to feel it.

One of the worst options you can choose to flip flops. They offer almost no support and cushioning, can lead to tow scrunching, and can easily slide around, giving you less traction. If you are a musician who is always standing, flip flops are not the way to go.

By investing in high-quality shoes that fit your feet well, you aren’t just eliminating a potential source of pain; you also promote better body alignment. Not have the right level of arch support can cause your knees to tip in or out, which is uncomfortable on its own. Plus, your hips will get misaligned, and that can impact everything up into your back and shoulders.

With the proper footwear, you can give your feet the right level of support and cushioning. This ensures you stay comfortable and can move freely too, allowing your performance to be as active as you’d like.

If you are looking for a great shoe that is comfortable, supportive, and incredibly versatile, consider crossfit shoes. These shoes are designed for a variety of activities and their versatility make them perfect for musicians who are always on their feet. The shoes are flexible, stable on the ground, and comfortable so you feel supported while you are playing.

CrossFit Shoe for Musicians
The right shoe, like a CrossFit sneaker, is critical to keeping you supported and comfortable when on your feet for hours.

While you’re at it; don’t neglect your socks either. Not only do your socks protect your feet from rubbing and chafing, but they also provide cushion. Some are even designed to provide additional support in key areas (like the arch) or to improve circulation. With the right socks and a great pair of shoes, your comfort can increase dramatically.

Stretch, Stretch, Stretch

For musicians, stretching should be seen as essential. Not only does it promote good posture and reduce tension, but it can serve as a counter to your usual positioning, ensuring your body remains balanced.

A few basic yoga poses can be incredibly beneficial. Downward facing dog can help you back, hips, and shoulders and is very simple to perform. You can also add in warrior (hero) poses, the runner’s stretch, or even bound angle pose.

With just a few minutes of stretching a day, you can make a ton of progress quickly, increasing your comfort level, reducing pain, and ensuring you remain limber and balanced.

Practice Self-Care

While practicing self-care doesn’t sound very rock-n-roll, it is important if you want to reduce pain. An Epsom salt soak can reduce inflammation and improve circulation while massage can loosen muscles. Plus, both promote relaxation.

A foot soak only takes a bucket, warm water, and a bit of Epson salt. You can soak your feet while doing something else too, like kicking back with a book or watching television.

While you can certainly opt for a professional massage, using your hands or even a tennis ball can provide you with substantial relief too. If you want to do your own massage, take both hands and use both thumbs. Follow the centerline of your foot and use circular motions, adjusting the pressure based on your comfort level.

The tennis ball method is exceptionally simple too. Just place the ball on the ground and your foot on top of it. Then use pressure to roll the ball across your arch and the ball of your foot for a few minutes. Believe me, it feels great after standing!

All of the tips above can help any musician who spends a lot of time on their feet. Consider giving them all a try. Your knees, hips, and back will thank you.