New York is a tourist mecca and there are certainly a litany of famous sights and museums. The Big Apple is also one of those cities where one can peel back the layers of time and culture to follow the history of almost any interest or obsession. For fans of jazz music, walking the streets of Manhattan quite often means following in the footsteps of Greats.
Almost all jazz lovers make it to at least the Blue Note in Greenwich Village, but there are some great opportunities to take some deep breaths of real soul and bebop as well.
The best place to start is a walk past Minton’s on West 118th Street in Harlem. Henry Minton opened this amazing venue in 1938 and it stayed open through to the 1960’s. It was most famous for the great Bebop players that graced its stage, such as Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. A walk past in the near future could turn into an actual drink and a concert, as there are plans afoot to reopen the venue for live jazz acts again.
After Minton’s, stroll further uptown to 142nd Street and Lennox to where the famed Cotton Club was born (the current one on 125th Street is just the latest incarnation). Opened as the Club Deluxe, this was one of the early homes to jazz in New York. Some of the most famous headliners there were Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. While nothing is left of the venue, the area still reverberates with the rhythm and soul of the peak years of the club in the 1920’s and 30’s.
While Harlem has many other amazing jazz sites, the next hop on this soul walk is The Royal Roost, which was in Midtown, so jump on the subway to Broadway and 47th Street. While in comparison to the previous venues, the Roost was short-lived, rising out of a chicken restaurant in 1948 and closing its music program in the early 1950’s, it was an important setting for Modern Jazz. The Royal Roost was at the cutting edge of the Modern Jazz or Bebop movement and was where it found its first real home. On the opening night, no less than Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Max Roach took to the stage. Now the heart of Times Square, there is nothing left of The Royal Roost but its legacy lives on.
There are dozens of other places that a jazz lover could visit as they meander the gritty streets of Manhattan. Making a musical trip to the city is easy with the large selection of cheap flights to New York now available. Pack a good pair of shoes and an MP3 player loaded with the music Greats for your expedition!