“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know,” Louis Armstrong once said. While the famous trumpeter and singer might be right, if you’re curious to know where the jazz is, let us be your guide.
London is swinging with jazz clubs, bars and nights that will turn a regular evening into something spontaneous, sexy and that, quite possibly, might go on until the small hours.
From the stalwarts of swing to the modern venues turning boogie-woogie on its head, these are the London jazz bars and clubs you need to know about.
If you thought all of London’s jazz bars had been around for decades, check out Kansas Smitty’s, the Hackney bar changing the face of the capital’s jazz scene.
Opened in 2015, the bar has its own house band (also called Kansas Smitty’s) who play six nights a week with an emphasis on crowd camaraderie and what jazz should be – spontaneity. They’ve played at iconic venues from the Royal Albert Hall to the Barbican but catch them in their natural habitat for something up close, personal and really special.
The Hackney bar changing the face of the capital’s jazz scene
Kansas Smitty’s, 63-65 Broadway Market, Hackney, London E8 4PH
Legendary jazz musician Ronnie Scott opened his eponymous club back in 1959 and to this day it remains one of Soho’s best-loved spots. Any jazz musician worth their salt has played there and any self-confessed jazz fan has been to watch a show.
Inside, the deep red walls, velvety booths and low lit table lamps make it feel exactly what a jazz club should be.
Some of the world’s best jazz musicians play every night but the fun really starts come 1am when the Late Late Show starts and swings on through until 3am.
Ronnie Scott’s, 47 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4HT
You might expect London’s most Scottish restaurant to push bagpipes over Jazz but it is in fact all over the boogie-woogie. In addition to the Scottish menu, cigar terrace and fine whiskey selection, they also put on live jazz every night. Expect the likes of a night inspired by the Ray Charles songbook to an evening of the great ladies from Billie to Ella and household names such as Jools Holland.
15 Eccleston St, Belgravia, London SW1W 9LX
Some of jazz’s greats, from Amy Winehouse to George Melly, have performed in The Wellesley’s Jazz Lounge and the love for the music genre can be felt embedded in its walls.
We love the Wes Anderson-esque powder pink interiors that play host to weekly jazz nights – Live at The Wellesley – that are the perfect setting for a romantic date night set to the sounds of offbeat riffs.
Book in for Italian food, killer martinis and captivating live music every Friday and Saturday.
Wes Anderson-esque powder pink interiors that play host to weekly jazz nights
11 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LY
Sandwiched between an off licence and a kebab shop just off Old Street roundabout you’ll find a big wooden door and inside, Nightjar. One of London’s best-loved secret bars, potent cocktails and live jazz every evening is their bag.
The menu itself is a nod to bygone times with sections labelled Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition and Post-War.
Warning: it’s always busy and there’s a strict if-your-name’s-not-down-you’re-not-coming-in policy so book ahead
Nightjar, 129 City Road, London EC1V 1JB
Located across three locations – Shoreditch, Brixton and Camden – expect to dance the night away at The Blues Kitchen thanks to their full-to-bursting rota of events, from The Night Train Live Music ‘Til Late to the Barrelhouse Blues night.
Brixton, Shoreditch and Camden
Global jazz, soul, groove, R&B, blues and gospel artists have been walking through 606’s doors since 1976. It’s still a hub for live music with musicians playing every night in the speakeasy-style basement bar.
They are one of the biggest employers of jazz artists in the country with up to 10 bands playing per week.
606 Club, 90 Lots Road, Chelsea, SW10 0QD
Dalston’s Vortex is one of London’s, if not the world’s, most pioneering jazz bars. It’s a non-for profit business and for the last 25 years have supported upcoming artists and acted as a platform for jazz and improvised music. They’ve even launched the careers of Mercury-nominated bands such as Polar Bear and Portico Quartet.
If you’re serious about jazz, make sure this is on your must-visit list.
Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ
Dalston’s Jazz Bar is the kind of place you stumble across and end up having the best night ever. The bar/restaurant is somewhat rough around the edges, but then, isn’t that what jazz sounds like anyway?
The nights are often free but you need to get there early to secure a spot and the food is served on a pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth basis.
If you’re after red velvet booths and people dressed up to the nines, this is not the place. It’s way more fun.
Dalston Jazz Bar, 4 Bradbury Street, Dalston, London N16 8JN
Head north to Camden’s Jazz Café for an iconic institution steeped in musical history. Every night of the week they bring Londoners the best of homegrown and global talent across jazz, soul and reggae.
Make a night of it and book into the restaurant that’s actually pretty decent, before dancing the night away for some of the most gifted live musicians in the city and beyond.
The best of homegrown & global talent on our London doorstep
Jazz Cafe, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London NW1 7PG
Ok, hear us out. You may not consider the chain pizza restaurant to moonlight as a jazz club but head to the basement in the Dean Street branch and that’s exactly what you’ll find.
PizzaExpress Founder Peter Boizot can be held responsible for this strange mashup – he was a jazz lover and since the late 1960s was keen to include live music on the menu.
Thousands of internationally acclaimed musicians have performed in the Soho basement, from Amy Winehouse to Jamie Cullum, Benny Waters to Charlie Watts.
JizzaExpress Jazz Club, 10 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 3RW
Head east to a jazz bar and club with vibes that feel like someone’s living room – albeit a much fancier, cooler one with great cocktails, tasty food and live jazz all night long. Ninety One Living Room is an entirely unique space that shifts from co-working in the day through to low lit, moody jazz bar at night.
Head there after hours for snacks and small plates set to the sound of London’s top live artists, as well as names from all over the globe.
Ninety One Living Room, 91 Brick Ln, Spitalfields, London E1 6QL