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The best jazz bars and clubs in London, from Ronnie Scott’s to Vortex

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n the basement of an east London bar or in a Belgravian Scottish restaurant — you never know where you’re going to find it.

Eschewing the concert halls in favour of more intimate spaces, London’s jazz scene is as thriving as ever. It’s not a matter of harking back to the days of prohibition — though the history is always considered — jazz here is about what’s hot right now and what we can expect for the future.

There’s a bold new crop of players, dominating the capital’s circuit and proving just how vital a genre jazz can be. Beside them, there are the venerable old guard, still captivating as ever.

The venues are just as diverse. There are widely loved institutions and there are grassroots venues. Some sit proudly as the cultural jewel of their area, others are harder to find, tucked away on side-streets or in the corner of low-lit bars. Each them of them is well worth a visit.

Ronnie Scott’s

As one of the world’s oldest jazz bars, Ronnie Scott’s in Soho has hosted Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie and Miles Davis. Despite having been around for as long as it has, Ronnie’s doesn’t peddle out the same old stuff — this is as much a place to find new voices as established ones. The Late Late Show takes music into the wee hours and Ronnie’s Bar upstairs presents an eclectic mix of blues, Latin, flamenco, jive and jazz jams where you can join in. Booking in advance is essential as many shows sell out in advance.

47 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4HT, ronniescotts.co.uk

Vortex

If you’re going to fall into a jazz spiral, then this is the place to do it. With seven nights a week of live music, it’s one of the capital’s most prolific venues — it programmes nearly 400 shows a year from traditional to avant-garde. Despite moving from its original home in Stoke Newington to settle in Dalston’s Gillett Square, it has remained a favourite of fans and top-rate players.

11 Gillett Square, N16 8AZ, vortexjazz.co.uk

PizzaExpress Jazz Club

Don’t be fooled — pizza isn’t the focus here. The Soho haunt has been pumping out top-notch jazz since opening in the Seventies. Gregory Porter, Walter Smith III, Amy Winehouse, Trummy Young and Kenny Baker have all graced the stage over the years, and it’s a real experience, especially given you’re never too far from the stage. They’ve got a site in Chelsea, the Pheasantry, and another in Holborn, PizzaExpress Live, and though neither of these deal exclusively in jazz, they both offer an exciting, thoughtful line-up of everything from folk to cabaret, as well as a little comedy.

10 Dean Street, W1D 3RW, pizzaexpresslive.com

This Deptford spot turned itself into a major outpost of the new London jazz movement after hosting a weekly residency with Steam Down, the innovative collective who have since moved onto bigger things. Their weekly slot has now been transformed into a free-flowing Wednesday night jazz jam, which regularly gets packed out. Be sure to sample some of the excellent Jamaican food on offer too.

3-4 Resolution Way, SE8 4NT, bustermantis.com

Dalston Jazz Bar

This tiny spot is easily missed, tucked away off the main road through Dalston and with an unassuming exterior. Inside, however, is one of the finest jazz bars in east London. The venue itself certainly believes in its own quality, with dinners offered on a pay-what-you-like basis, and the musicians playing for donations. Stick around after the live music for DJ sets which run until the early hours.

4 Bradbury Street, N16 8JN, dalstonjazzbar.co.uk

The Crypt

Daniel Devlin/Susak Press

First things first: this isn’t a bar, or a club — it’s a downstairs crypt in a church, which means you won’t get any of the sultry opulence usually associated with the traditional club. Does that matter? Hardly, given there’s still plenty of fantastic jazz. This Camberwell spot has been a fixture of the south London scene formore than 25 years now, and hosts its jazz nights every Friday, with both legacy players and new names on the programme. Food is served at the table and a fully licensed bar runs from 8pm ‘til late.

St Giles Church, Camberwell Church Street, SE5 8JB, jazzlive.co.uk

606 Club

Behind an unassuming door in Chelsea Harbour, 606 is one of the busiest jazz bars going. Providing a stage for some big names back in the day – it helped Jamie Cullum build up his profile – there’s still every chance you could catch the UK’s next jazz maestro. It’s a members club, but non-members are more than welcome, provided you can be squeezed in. This is somewhere to really make a night of it, which you’ll need to, given you can’t buy drinks without food.

90 Lots Road, Chelsea, SW10 0QD, 606club.co.uk

Crazy Coqs

Live at Zedel sits beside Brasserie Zedel’s historic underground dining room. It’s not just jazz here — they go for the cabaret, comedy and theatre as well — but when it’s a jazz night, you really couldn’t be anywhere else. Expect world-class singers giving tributes to artists such as Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

20 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED, brasseriezedel.com

Jazz Cafe

Celebrating: the new Camden Jazz Cafe is one this year

The Jazz Cafe in Camden is a little less low-key than the others. This is for swinging and jiving, as there’s a dance floor (always impossible to resist). If you’re less of a dancer and more of a diner, you can watch the performance from the mezzanine restaurant, but be sure to book a table in advance. You can find performances from across the genres, as well as nights dedicated to some of the best jazz, blues and soul artists around.

5 Parkway, Camden, NW1 7PG, thejazzcafelondon.com

Boisdale

With tartan interiors and an impressive whisky list, the three Boisdale restaurants — in Belgravia, Bishopsgate and Canary Wharf — are also revered for their jazz menu. Jools Holland is at the helm as the Boisdale’s patron of music and helps to curate a varied line-up of nightly music.

Various locations, boisdale.co.uk

Nightjar

There’s no denying that the drinks take precedence over the music at this Shoreditch venue, and it has a reputation as being one of the best bars in the area. Still, there’s plenty to be enjoyed among Nightjar’s music offering, with live music on every night of the week. The artists here are hardly experimentalists, but they provide the perfect accompaniment – whether that’s jazz, ragtime, blues or something else – while you work your way through the drinks menu.

129 City Road, EC1V 1JB, barnightjar.com

Toulouse Lautrec

Let your inner Frenchman loose in this gorgeously themed Elephant and Castle jazz club. Doubling up as a restaurant and piano bar, this is the kind of venue that will take you from dinner to the late hours of the night in immaculate style. Jazz nights are generally on Tuesday, and feature a “jazz jam”, which encourages you to bring your own instruments and jam along with the guest of the week. Oui, merci.

140 Newington Butts, SE11 4RN, toulouselautrec.co.uk

Kings Place

Kings Place does all sorts, from folk and classical to spoken word and, yes, jazz. Its programming for the former is a worldly thing, not focusing on any particular sub-genre or location, which means you can always count on it being an intriguing visit.

90 York Way, N1 9AG, kingsplace.co.uk

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