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GoNOLA Top 5: New Orleans Modern Jazz Venues

Most people know that New Orleans has great traditional Dixieland Jazz, but there is plenty of modern jazz, too. Here are the top venues to find it.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the world-famous city of New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz. With native sons such as Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, who helped cultivate the New Orleans jazz subgenre, the Big Easy’s musical landscape is permanently intertwined with the genre’s brassy, lively notes. Thousands of Jazz lovers flock to the city every year to hear some traditional, New Orleans Jazz played live in the city’s countless music venues.

All this is great for traditional Jazz lovers, but what if you prefer a different style of Jazz? Take heart, modern Jazz fans! It’s possible to hear live, modern Jazz in New Orleans—you just have to know where to look.

Where to Find Modern Jazz in the City of Dixieland

1. Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro – Ask anyone in town, and they’ll tell you that Snug Harbor is the city’s preeminent venue for modern Jazz. Located on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny neighborhood, which is a gold mine for live music of all kinds and makes a nice alternative to Bourbon Street, Snug Harbor holds two shows nightly and regularly plays host to modern jazz greats, including both Ellis and Jason Marsalis.

The venue, housed in a 19th-century storefront, features a two-story music room, with the stage and main seating area downstairs and an upstairs balcony that offers additional seating. The atmosphere is more refined than in other clubs in New Orleans, and talking during the show is discouraged, lending a real intimacy that places the music front and center.

This cozy venue only sells about 90 tickets per show, so we recommend purchasing them in advance.

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Snug Harbor, one of the iconic music venues on Frenchmen Street (Photo by Elizabeth Heideman)

2. Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club — A quick cab ride from the Quarter, Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club was named one of the top 10 jazz clubs in the country by USA Today and oozes classic, speakeasy charm. Don’t let the austere exterior fool you—this place has a sophisticated ambiance, and the crowd tends to be sharply dressed.

The club features a regular rotation of local and nationally-known artists who play equal parts smooth and modern Jazz. New Orleans’ own Nicholas Payton, Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter, and Michael Ward, who plays jazz violin, frequent this joint, making it a prime destination for those looking for trad Jazz alternatives.

If the above star-studded lineup wasn’t enough to entice you, a look at Sweet Lorraine’s menu just might. This is the perfect place to sample Creole cuisine, such as crawfish etouffee and red beans and rice. You can be sure it’s authentic — this neighborhood club is where the locals come to have a good time.

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A Caribbean style oasis in New Orleans’ Uptown (Photo by Elizabeth Heideman)

3. Dos Jefes Uptown Cigar Bar — If you’d like to explore beyond the boundaries of the French Quarter, Dos Jefes in the Uptown/Riverbend neighborhood promises a memorable night of live Jazz in a laid back atmosphere.

The bar features a nightly lineup of a variety of Jazz, including modern profiles of hot jazz, gypsy jazz and other musical genres, such as funk, blues, and five-finger acoustic guitar. Some modern Jazz artists to keep an eye out for who perform at Snug Harbor include the Jenna McSwain Trio, Tom Hook and Wendell Bruinous.

Dos Jefes provides more than 40 brands of cigars to choose from and has a variety of comfortable furniture to lounge on as well as a pool table. Additionally, a nice, airy patio awaits the non-smokers of the group.

Best of all, there’s no cover charge.

4. Bacchanal Wine – Another local treasure that’s a bit off the beaten path—but worth the journey—is Bacchanal, which bills itself as a “wine laboratory,” live music venue and fine dining establishment.

A truly unique Jazz venue, a charming outdoor patio doubles as a music stage, with live bands performing seven nights a week, excluding rainy nights. The lineup is an eclectic mix of sounds, but is composed primarily of modern, innovative and soft jazz artists. Groups such as the Jesse Morrow Trio, The Session (considered one of New Orleans’ best up-and-coming modern jazz quintets) and cellist Helen Gillet, who plays more experimental modern jazz, are all Bacchanal fixtures. On weekend nights, including Fridays, you’re likely to hear some hard bop and gypsy jazz by local performers.

5. Little Gem Saloon – This classy, but casual, venue in New Orleans’ Central Business District is a local favorite for after-work drinks and some great live music. While not exclusively a modern jazz venue, the Saloon has featured some nationally-recognized modern Jazz artists in the past. For example, their monthly “Gem Sessions” concert series has featured the likes of vibraphonist Warren Wolf, Jamison Ross and JoyRide, and jazz drummer Mike Clark in the past.

While you’re there, enjoy the Saloon’s small plates, such as tasso-crusted mac ‘n’ cheese balls with a sriracha cream sauce or one of their creative entrees like chicken and bread pudding.

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