Jazz is as synonymous with New Orleans as Mardi Gras and gumbo. If you're wondering where to find the best jazz clubs in New Orleans, you're in the right place.
Since I started going to the Big Easy in 2017, I've filled my nights with live jazz at some of the city's best bars, clubs, and lounges.
I first began listening to jazz during my college radio days at Colgate University.
While living in South America during my thirties, I was consumed by Latin music and dance. However, since moving to Austin, I've gravitated to jazz once again.
Austin has a few downtown jazz clubs, which I enjoy, but they can't hold a candle to the vibe and sense of his history one feels going to jazz clubs in New Orleans.
The following list is based on my personal experience. These are all tried and true places to enjoy this uniquely American musical genre.
Where to Find Live Jazz
Kermit's Treme Mother in Law Lounge
Before visiting New Orleans for the third time, I binge-watched the HBO series Treme on Amazon Prime.
The show is named after the neighborhood north of the French Quarter, where jazz music was born in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Several of the lead characters are musicians; viewers are treated to a lot of terrific music.
Many local musicians appeared on the show as themselves, including Kermit Ruffins, a trumpeter/singer.
When I learned that he opened Kermit's Treme Mother in Law Lounge in 2014, I had to check it out.
I went on a Monday night and found an empty bar, but only because the party was in the backyard.
Instead of paying a cover to walk in the bar, you pay it when you walk out the back door.
It was a little before 9 pm when I arrived, and the music was in full swing at one of the best jazz clubs in New Orleans.
I only caught the last song or two by Kermit, who had everyone up and dancing.
After leaving the stage, a series of guest musicians took over, including another guy I recognized from the Treme show.
Kermit performs Mondays and Thursdays, starting at 7 pm. The cover is $20.
1500 N Claiborne Ave, kermitslounge.com
I learned about Preservation Hall from a couple of locals while enjoying a drink at Jewel of the South, a bar in the French Quarter.
Dating back to the 1950s, Preservation Hall has to be the most unassuming jazz club in the world.
Every night, a line of hopefuls forms outside this venerable institution for the chance to spend an hour listening to the house band, The Preservation All Stars, perform traditional New Orleans jazz.
The band performs five sets per night: 5 pm, 6 pm, 8 pm, 9 pm, and 10 pm.
Admission is $20 at the door (cash only), or you can pay $40-$50 in advance to make a reservation through their website.
The benefits of having a reservation include not waiting in line and a seat closer to the band.
The room's seating is rustic. We're talking wooden benches and the option to sit on some cushions in the very front.
No photography. No alcohol. All-ages.
Preservation Hall offers a rare opportunity to enjoy an intimate performance in a historical setting. Don't miss it!
726 St Peter (between Bourbon and Royal Streets), preservationhall.com
The Spotted Cat Music Club
On my first trip to New Orleans with family in 2017, my brother and I walked to Frenchmen's Street after dinner in the French Quarter.
Frenchmen Street is lined with music clubs. We stepped inside The Spotted Cat Music Club around 9 pm.
A few minutes later, Washboard Chaz took the stage to perform for a packed house.
His is just one of the many bands The Cat regularly features on its tiny stage.
Last November, when I returned to New Orleans for the third time, I re-visited The Cat and caught a terrific jazz band.
If they're not charging a cover at the door, be sure to tip the musicians. Preferably, tip them regardless.
623 Frenchmen St, spottedcatmusicclub.com
Across the street from The Spotted Cat is d.b.a., which opened its doors in spring 2000, though the building it's in dates back to the 1880s.
Here you'll find a steady stream of local and touring acts performing for a lively mix of residents and tourists.
When I dropped in during my second trip to New Orleans, swing dancers were whipping up a storm in front of the stage.
I had a ball just sitting back and drinking a beer while taking in the whole scene.
618 Frenchmen St, dbaneworleans.com
The Blue Nile is another excellent jazz club in New Orleans; it's also one of the longest-running on Frenchmen Street.
I've walked into the Blue Nile on two out of my three trips to New Orleans. Both occasions were free, an indication the band was playing for tips.
If you stick around for a few songs, show some love, and drop a dollar or two in the tip jar.
While some other clubs like The Spotted Cat are smaller and fill up quickly, Blue Nile has a large stage and spacious dance floor.
532 Frenchmen St, bluenilelive.com
21st Amendment Bar
My love for speakeasies led me to check out the Prohibition-era 21st Amendment Bar in the French Quarter.
The bar takes its name from the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution, which repealed the 18th Amendment creating Prohibition (the ban on alcohol production and sales) in 1920.
The space was originally a hotel and restaurant called La Louisiane when it was established in 1933; the same year, Prohibition ended.
According to the website, “from the 1950s to 1980s, La Louisiane was owned by New Orleans' most notorious mobsters, Diamond Jim Moran and Carlos Marcello.”
Today, black and white images of mobsters adorn the walls.
The 21st Amendment Bar features live music seven days a week and craft cocktails starting at $12.
725 Iberville St, 21stamendmentlalouisiane.com
The Davenport Lounge
If you're feeling fancy or want to escape to a more comfortable jazz club in New Orleans, consider The Davenport Lounge.
Given I run a site called “Go Backpacking,” it should come as no surprise I don't often hang out in luxury hotels.
I was even a little nervous walking inside. However, those feelings disappeared as I took the elevator up to the jazz lounge and saw it was a laid-back atmosphere.
I had a bite to eat in the M Bistro (pictured above), which is adjacent to the lounge and allows you to continue enjoying the live music as you eat.
The Davenport Lounge offers light snacks and craft cocktails during the shows, which run from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 9 pm to 1 am Fridays and Saturdays.
This is the only jazz club on my list where I'd suggest you dress nicely, either smart casual or business casual. I wore a collared shirt, jeans, and stylish sneakers.
The Ritz Carlton, 921 Canal St, ritzcarlton.com
There you have it, my current list for the best jazz clubs in New Orleans.
There are many more places I'd like to check out when I head back. This list will be updated as I discover new spots to share.