Harlem Jazz Tour: The Best Guide to Enjoying the Music and Culture of Harlem

Harlem is famous for jazz. From the rich history of jazz musicians in Harlem to the legacy of iconic venues to the new generation of musicians making their mark on the borough, this musical tradition is alive and well in Harlem. Jazz is all about improvisation. And that’s what makes it so much fun. You never know what you’re going to hear when you attend a live performance. But there are some things you can expect at most gigs: an upbeat tempo, creativity, energy, and diversity. Take a tour of Harlem today to hear these things with your own ears!

Brief History of Harlem

Harrison’s Blackwall Garage was the first venue to host jazz at a Harlem club. And it was by design. “The place was named after one of the most famous jazz venues in the world, the Blackwall Tunnel, a building on the Southside of London where “New Jazz” was first made and where Django Reinhardt and others played.” — BrooklynVegan The legend goes that Brooklyn’s own, the late Charlie Parker, was the only black member of Parker’s band at the time and he felt uncomfortable. A key friend of Parker, Buck Clayton, felt that the potential audience in Harlem was majority African American. Thus, the Blackwall Garage was born. But not all the clubs are down South. The most notable are two in Harlem: Knickerbocker Lounge This venue is right across the street from Malcolm X Park.

Famous Jazz Musicians from Harlem

1. Ella Fitzgerald is considered to be one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time. The style that Fitzgerald mastered — jazz vocal jazz — is what has defined jazz vocal music. She has been known to perform all over the world and never disappoints. 2. Louis Armstrong It’s hard to miss Louis Armstrong’s importance in jazz history. He was the first to popularize jazz in the 1920s and 1930s, which led to its increase in popularity in the 1930s. Armstrong is known for his iconic trumpet, the “Fat Man,” but it’s his energy that shines. He was born with a condition that caused his chest to be small, which made him look “fat” on stage. His role in introducing African-American music to America was so big that he was even mentioned in the first inaugural ball of the U.S.

The Legacy of Iconic Harlem Venues

There are three legendary venues in Harlem that you can visit for a live performance: The Blue Note, the B.B King’s Blues Club, and the Village Vanguard. All three of these venues are nominated for a Grammy Award every year, and the B.B. King’s Blues Club and the Village Vanguard are perennial winners of the “Best Jazz Club in America” award. The B.B. King’s Blues Club is the oldest and the best known of the three. The club has been in its location at 868 East 116th Street since 1973. This is the place where giants of the jazz world have played over the years, including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Terence Blanchard, and the Ellington band, among others. The Village Vanguard has a storied history, beginning in 1922.

New Generation of Jazz Musicians

Harlem has long been known as a hub for African-American cultural advancement. As the seat of New York City, Harlem is home to historic landmarks and sites, as well as government buildings. But it’s also the birthplace of jazz. George Gershwin and Duke Ellington were born in Harlem. The Apollo Theater is known as the “Mothership.” The creative community of Harlem has thrived, attracting artists, celebrities, and intellectuals from around the globe. And young, innovative musicians are thriving here today, including notable musicians like Ahmir Thompson, as well as the Kimbo Slice of the modern-day hip hop world, Travis Scott, Nils Parker, Flohio, Roddy Ricch, and Jazze Pha.

What to Expect at a Live Performance?

If you don’t know what to expect when you attend a live performance, here’s a quick primer of the things to expect at a live performance.


Harlem is a great place to witness this firsthand. The city is an African American melting pot. Harlem is home to some of the best cuisine in New York. Harlem has a huge music scene. Harlem is one of the most historic places in the world.