From café society to swing dancing, Django Reinhardt to Miles Davis, Paris has enjoyed a long love affair with jazz. Here are 12 of the city’s top concert venues for jazz music.
Since the early 1920s, the most iconic and avant-garde musicians have been welcomed in Parisian underground clubs and velvet-seated theaters. The musical spectrum in the French capital today is as vibrant and eclectic as ever, with plenty of authentic swing, gypsy and blues artists, but also musicians flirting with the boundaries of composition and improvisation.
There’s never a night when you’ll find fewer than three unmissable jazz concerts, and the most dedicated fans will somehow manage to make it to all three. And we’re not just talking about the prestigious clubs: the city is teeming with small, informal concerts at bars barely big enough to fit the musicians in, where many of the best local musicians meet and play regularly (be sure to ask the performers where they’re headed next). This list includes everything from iconic Parisian venues to a few hush-hush temples of jazz, known only to local musos and those in the know, plus chic and stylish locales as well as those with a piano with a few missing keys and a rowdy clientele yakking over the best solos.
Le Bal Blomet
With around 260 seats (tables, no standing room) and a majestic Steinway on stage, this discreet cabaret-style theatre near Montparnasse is in fact the oldest jazz club currently open in Europe. Founded in 1924 as Le Bal Nègre, it welcomed Josephine Baker to enthrall crowds that might have included the likes of Cocteau, Man Ray or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nowadays, against the modern brick-wall backdrop and the iconic neon-green letters, Paris’ finest musicians perform here: mainly jazz, but also classical and a few theater productions. The tables are occupied by genuine music lovers: a reverent hush prevails as the musicians play, and applause is generous. Tickets range between €15 and €25 and most shows sell out, so be sure to reserve to avoid disappointment.
33 Rue Blomet, 75015
Le Caveau de la Huchette
Le Caveau de la Huchette was featured in the film La La Land, and legend has it that it inspired the decor of Liverpool’s The Cavern Club. Undoubtedly the most legendary of the city’s jazz ‘caves,‘ this building near the Notre-Dame Cathedral was originally a meeting place for the Templars and a secret Freemasons’ lodge. It was repurposed in 1948 as a jazz club and a place where people could kick up their heels until at least 1am: with swing, rock, lindy. If you don’t know the steps, just shake it ’til you make it, or sit on the red vinyl benches around the dancing pit to admire the best moves. Some artists play there every week (like Big Dez for the Monday blues nights, when entry is free for musicians who come to jam) and international swing stars may pop in for three nights in a row. If you have any energy left, move on to two other authentic venues in the area: Le Caveau des Oubliettes (funk and soul) or the oh-so-French Aux Trois Mailletz (drunken chanson française).
5 Rue de la Huchette, 75005
With jazz 365 days a year, from 9pm to midnight, all concerts are free entry (contributions for musicians encouraged) at this graffiti-covered, converted station on the rails of the abandoned Petite Ceinture near La Villette. This is where young, hip Parisians go for their jazz fix, and the chances of hearing something exhilaratingly original are high. Regular electro jazz sessions with the violinist Theo Ceccaldi, Mondays for four years running with the quartet led by Rick Margitza (former sax to Miles Davis’ trumpet), and a Tuesday jam for students from the Conservatoire National Supérieur are all on the menu. Persian rugs haphazardly thrown against the walls and ceiling absorb the sound, the drinks are cheap and it’s mainly standing room with a few rows of seats (in warmer weather, enjoy a beer at the outdoor tables along the train tracks before the band starts).
1 Ave Corentin Cariou, 75019
A sleek New York-style jazz club is not the first thing you might expect to find in the thick of the 13th arrondissement’s Chinatown, but here it is, with excellent local artists playing from Tuesday to Saturday each week: expect contemporary jazz, swing, blues, and soul on the varied program. Named after the French village of Barbizon, this intimate, minimalist venue has a capacity of around 70, ideal for a date night. The dark curtains are flanked by black-and-white photographs of jazz legends captured in action by Sophie Leroux. Cover charge ranges from around 11€ to 15€: order a cocktail at the bar or reserve for a candlelit dinner right in front of the artists (burgers, charcuterie and cheese platters). Musicians are welcome to jam at least one night a week. If you’re still hungry after the show ends by 11pm, head to nearby Hao Hao restaurant (23 Avenue de Choisy) for a late-night dumpling fix.
141 Rue de Tolbiac, 75013
Serpent à Plume
By far the hippest place to be on the historic Place des Vosges in the Marais, Serpent à Plume (literally ‘feathered serpent’, the ancient deity Quetzacotl) is a restaurant and underground bar somehow mixing Pre-Columbian art, old-world elegance and young fashionistas caught between punk and chic. The eclectic artistic programming overseen by Alex Rash and his team is constantly surprising, from the in-house classical string quartet playing at midnight to dark, throbbing DJ sets; glitzy cabaret drag shows to live shibari fetish sessions. Jazz – specifically, 1930s swing – is a big part of Serpent à Plume’s cosmopolitan identity: on the terrasse until winter (usually Sundays) or in the underground cocktail den (most Wednesdays). No cover charge, so you can splurge on a frothy drink as you immerse yourself in sultry swing from 9pm until after midnight. The true test of credentials for any jazz clic: when other musicians show up late after their own concerts to jam. Did we mention there’s a jacuzzi?
24 Place des Vosges, 75003
Le Duc des Lombards
When Homer takes his family to Paris in one memorable episode of The Simpsons, it’s no surprise that saxophone-loving Lisa insists on a night out at Duc des Lombards (the cartoon version of the club announces cheeky entrance fees: ‘€10 for aficionados, €20 for posers and €50 for Americans’). The real rates are between €29 and €41 for one of the two nightly concerts from Monday to Saturday. Located in the bustling Châtelet area along the city’s most important jazz strip (Rue des Lombards is also home to the clubs Sunset/Sunside and Le Baiser Salé), Le Duc has been the mythic Paris venue for French and international jazz stars since the 1980s, from Wynton Marsalis to Melody Gardot and Gregory Porter. Once the haunt of Henri Texier and Martial Solal, this is where Jon Batiste recently gave a secret concert that finished with a raucous New Orleans parade in the street. Stay by the dimly-lit bar to feel the vibrations of the Yamaha concert grand, or enjoy the bird’s-eye view from the mezzanine. For the most authentic experience, night owls should attend one of the free jam sessions, open to musicians, on Fridays and Saturdays from midnight to 4am.
42 Rue des Lombards, 75001
Le Piano Vache
The Frenchiest of jazz experiences, Le Piano Vache (The Piano Cow) has been a jazz club since 1969, hosting ‘manouche’ (gypsy jazz) concerts run by the legendary guitarist Rodolphe Raffalli every Monday night for more than 20 years. In a backstreet behind the Pantheon, tucked away in the Latin Quarter, the bar is likely to be crammed with students; the owner Jean-Marie will instruct you exactly where to sit, then sternly shush you. Regulars hear the same musicians most weeks, such as the double bassist Raoul, who growls and roars with pleasure as he plucks and slaps the strings. The eponymous piano may be rickety, and food doesn’t get more complex than a croque monsieur, but fans of Django Reinhardt attend every week like mass. Looking for other venues with a vibrant jazz manouche culture? Stop in at La Chope des Puces at Saint-Ouen on a Sunday afternoon.
8 Rue Laplace, 75005
La Péniche Marcounet
How to spend a beautiful, sunny afternoon along the Seine this summer? Dancing in front of the péniche (boats), accompanied by a live jazz band doesn’t get much more Parisian. The city’s swing fiends come out to leap, shimmy and lift one another with more joie de vivre to be found here than anywhere else in Paris. Join in or just admire the dancers and enjoy the music. It all takes place on Sunday afternoons in front of the Péniche Marcounet (a floating jazz club), but there are also free duo performances on the outdoor terrace most summer evenings, to be enjoyed with drinks and nibbles, followed by paid concerts on the boat in the indoor dining area.
Port des Célestins, Quai de l’Hôtel de ville, 75004 Paris
Insomniacs, this one’s for you. Low ceilings and stone walls soak up the music in this 12th-century cellar with no raised stage, a smattering of seats directly in front of the musicians (expect to get to know your neighbors), and separate rooms for the bar and viewing the concert on screen for those who prefer to chat. The venue was taken over by double bassist Vincent Charbonnier in 2007, and the offerings are varied: swing and bebop, groove and soul, Latin and jams. Lots of jams. Stay after the concerts on Monday, Tuesday (funk night), Thursday, and the late jams on Friday and Saturday nights, from 11.30pm to 2am. Concert entry is up to 25€ or you can attend and participate in the jams for the price of a drink with a small additional cover. Hear the best established and up-and-coming musicians in Paris in this intimate, improvised format in which anything can happen.
38 Rue de Rivoli, 75004
Paris jazz never seems to sleep, but not all of us can stay out until 4am waiting for the best sax solo. The Sunday afternoon brunch at La Bellevilloise combines the French love for jazz with the French love of stuffing your face with croissants. Originally a cooperative and a ‘cultural fortress’ founded in 1877 by, and for, working class Parisians, La Bellevilloise still has a robust concert program. In the vast Halle des Oliviers, surrounded by olive trees, you can enjoy some of the city’s finest young ensembles along with a decadent buffet of things like scrambled eggs, pastries, and chocolate mousse. It’s also family friendly, with a special kids’ rate. Just be sure to reserve ahead, as La Bellevilloise is one of the most popular brunch spots in Paris.
19-21 Rue Boyer, 75020
Studio de l’Ermitage
Just a short walk from La Bellevilloise and formerly a biscuit factory, this building perched high up in Ménilmontant has been devoted to jazz and world music since the early 2000s, with concerts five nights a week all year round. It’s lost none of that raw, industrial charm, with minimalist metal surfaces in the dining area and mezzanine. With the bar easily accessible in the standing zone on ground floor, you can enjoy the concert with a drink in hand. France’s finest musicians are programmed here, with special events including the Off for the Jazz à la Villette festival.
8 Rue de l’Ermitage, 75020
A queue often forms in front of the metallic doors on the rather unglamorous Rue des Petites Écuries, in that blurry area between the grands boulevards and the Porte Saint-Denis. With a capacity of 500 people, between club and concert hall, New Morning was founded in April 1981 by the Egyptian journalist Eglal Farhi, muse to many a jazzman in her time – Ron Carter, Chet Baker and Art Blakey were among the first to grace its stage that month. Later came Betty Carter, Diane Reeves, Gil Scott-Heron, Archie Shepp and even Prince, for surprise late-night after parties. These days, funk, soul and a little world music are on the menu: you might hear the likes of Brad Mehldau, Samara Joy, or John Scofield on any given night, with some of the biggest international names stopping in for the annual All Stars Festival.
7/9 Rue des Petites Écuries, 75010