New York City
When it comes to jazz joints in Manhattan, the question for baritone saxophonist Claire Daly is not where to go, but how many places she can pack into one night. Three of her favorite spots downtown are within blocks of each other. "They're friendly, local haunts," Daly says. "You could spend the whole evening at any of them, or club-hop from place to place." Daly usually starts her night at the Prohibition-era 55 Bar, where luminaries like Miles Davis alum Mike Stern often jam (55 Christopher St., 212/929-9883, 55bar.com). Then it's off to Sweet Rhythm, a hangout formerly home to Sweet Basil that attracts the best of the upstarts and such veteran players as drummer Lewis Nash (88 Seventh Ave., 212/255-3626, sweetrhythmny.com). By 1 A.M., Daly needs some sustenance, so she heads to the Garage Restaurant & Cafe, a swanky jazz supper club that serves steak frites and fresh Malpeque oysters during big-band shows (99 Seventh Ave., 212/645-0600, garagerest.com).
Double bass player Ben Jaffe came into this world to the beat of New Orleans's famed music. "My parents arranged for a band to play at the hospital the day I was born," Jaffe says. He ultimately followed in the footsteps of his late father, tuba player Allan Jaffe, and joined his dad's New Orleans–based ensemble, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. When the group isn't on tour, Jaffe often checks out two of his favorite acts, the New Orleans Jazz Vipers and trumpeter Shamarr Allen, at The Spotted Cat, in the Faubourg Marigny district adjacent to the French Quarter. "It's where locals go to hear acoustic jazz," he says. "The place is set up like a living room, so you can sit on a plush old couch and listen to music while watching passersby through the club's big bay windows." 623 Frenchmen St., 504/943-3887.
Whenever he visits St. Louis, reed player and bandleader J. D. Parran of Spirit Stage checks out Jazz at the Bistro in the stylish Grand Center arts district. The main room has family-style seating, so you can meet and mingle with such living legends as pianist Cedar Walton (3536 Washington Blvd., 314/289-4030). Parran's other local haunt is the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site. Ragtime notables, including Donald Ryan and Richard Zimmerman, play several shows a year at the house, still furnished as it was when ragtime legend Joplin wrote "The Entertainer" there in 1902 (2658 Delmar Blvd., 314/340-5790).
According to trombonist Steve Swell, bandleader of Slammin' The Infinite, Velvet Lounge showcases some of the Windy City's coolest jazz bands. "The place was founded in 1982 by a fantastic elder statesman named Fred Anderson, who plays tenor sax there," Swell says. "Fred was an early member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which helped many black musicians develop and record their own music." Velvet Lounge moved to a new space in 2006, but die-hard fans will be glad to know it's still presided over by an enormous shabby-chic chandelier that was a hallmark of the old venue. 67 E. Cermak Rd., 312/791-9050, velvetlounge.net.
"Everything about Bimhuis, from the comfy seats to the terrific sound system, is first-rate," says jazz composer and violinist Jason Kao Hwang. The concert hall overlooking Amsterdam's harbor puts on more than 300 concerts a year, featuring the best of the local scene and plenty of international stars, including sax player Pharoah Sanders. "Unlike at most venues, the bar is separated from the stage, so chatter doesn't disrupt the performance," Hwang says. But if you do take a break for a drink, you won't miss a note—music is piped into the bar. Piet Heinkade 3, 011-31/20-788-2188, bimhuis.nl.
Jazz pianist Ursel Schlicht, who moved to New York City from Germany in 1995, has a soft spot in her heart for Loft in Cologne. (Owner Hans-Martin Müller, a jazz flutist, converted his apartment into the club in 1989.) "A lot of albums have been recorded at Loft because it has great acoustics," Schlicht says. "And the huge Steinway grand piano attracts the who's who of international and local new-jazz pianists, including Georg Ruby." As you'd expect from the name, Loft is an open space with seating that allows the audience to sit close to the musicians. "Because it's so intimate," Schlicht says, "it's easy to strike up a conversation with the players after each gig." Wissmannstrasse 30, 011-49/221-952-1555, loft-koeln.de.