Music is alive and well in New York. Sure, it has changed. Many of the legendary music venues such as the Bottom Line and CBGB have closed, and the live-music scene has expanded to include Brooklyn and Queens. All of which means there are plenty of inventive and exciting sounds emanating from clubs throughout the city.
Rockwood Music Hall has jumped to the front of the line of must-go-to rock clubs since its opening in 2005. The club boasts many styles of rock music, though it leans toward the melodic. In fact, a well-known music website, indieonthemove.com, warns musicians, “No hard rock, hardcore, hip-hop, metal, punk, rap, screamo, thrash.” The Rockwood is essentially three intimate venues in one: Stage One holds 70 patrons, and Stage Two opens up to 300. Stage Three is the most intimate, reserved for acoustic acts, with room for 64. The Rockwood does require a one-drink minimum per set, but music is the priority here. The club is a great showcase for new talent: Superstars including Lady Gaga, Jessie J and Mumford & Sons played here on their way up. If your love for rock is real, you’ll love the Rockwood. 196 Allen St., 212.477.4155, rockwoodmusichall.com
The Bowery Ballroom is housed in a 1929 building that was converted into a music venue in 1998. The 575-seat room has become an essential stop for established bands that are in the process of moving up to the big time. As a standing-room-only space, it’s not built for comfort. But with hipper bands including Nada Surf, G. Love & Special Sauce, and the Infamous Stringdusters, it’s hard to complain about the music, which plays seven nights a week. 6 Delancey St., 212.260.4700, boweryballroom.com
In the heart of the Village is Webster Hall, a huge venue that is both nightclub and concert hall. In addition to its main room, the Grand Ballroom, Webster Hall also has a downstairs studio (accessible by a separate entrance), which serves as a hot spot for young bands to do showcases, or just for any fan to get an up close musical thrill. In March, you can check out up-and-comers including Nathan Anderson, Somos and Petal. For hip-hop and metalheads, Webster Hall is a necessary—and very cool—destination. 125 E. 11th St., 212.353.1600, websterhall.com
Jazz fans in New York City have never had a shortage of venues. Time-honored places like Café Carlyle and the Village Vanguard are still well-respected locations that put music lovers in awe when they walk through their doors. Among other old-time institutions is the Blue Note, where past performers have included Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan. When artists such as Chris Botti and David Benoit want to play an intimate gig in the city, this is their choice. Space is limited (this is New York), but there is always room at the bar, where it all sounds just as good. And hey, for fun, there is even a gift shop! 131 W. 3rd St., 212.475.8592, bluenote.net
For jazz fans who are looking for out-of-the-way venues, there are almost too many choices. One of my favorites is Fat Cat, which in many ways is more than a jazz club. The space is actually a multicultural institution that features music, games, an art space and some educational programs. Musically, you can find a wide range of genres from jazz to Latin, even classical or world music. In addition, Fat Cat gets right to the heart of jazz tradition with late-night jam sessions, where literally anything can happen and anyone can show up. 75 Christopher St., 212.675.6056, fatcatmusic.org
Smalls is aptly named, a small room of a jazz club with huge possibilities. Since 1993, it has been well-known as a premier spot to see up-and-coming talent on the jazz scene. The music is great, but the room is a tiny one. On the plus side, this practically puts you in the bell of the sax player’s horn. On the downside, lines can extend around the block, so plan ahead and get there in plenty of time. The owners have created a record label called Smalls Live, which has released albums by Spike Wilner, the Seamus Blake Quintet and others. As one Yelp! reviewer noted, “It’s like having great jazz in your living room with a few friends.” 183 W. 10th St., 646.476.4346, smallslive.com
All reports to the contrary, classical music is alive and well—especially in New York. Since 1988, the Miller Theatre at Columbia University School of the Arts has been an incubator for new music, in addition to presenting concerts covering jazz, opera and multimedia performances. Recently, the theater hosted Yarn/Wire, a New York-based percussion and piano quartet that has been praised in the press for its “spellbinding virtuosity.” The Miller has presented a wide range of concerts, from a “Bachathon” to the Belgian vocal ensemble Vox Luminis’ presentation of works from the entire Bach family, along with concerts spotlighting contemporary composers such as Alex Mincek and Ashley Fure. The theater also hosts monthly “pop-up” concerts, free events where the audience sits onstage for the performance. The old styles never sounded as new as they do at the Miller Theatre. 2960 Broadway, 212.854.7799, millertheatre.com
Merkin Concert Hall
Among the highlights at Merkin Concert Hall this season is the New York Festival of Song series including the “At Home” concert (March 15), songs for every room in the house by international composers such as Camille Saint-Saëns, Francis Poulenc, Leonard Bernstein and John Bucchino. With only 449 seats, the Merkin offers an intimate setting that provides a visceral experience, no matter what the style of music. Kaufman Music Center, 129 W. 67th St., 212.501.3330, kaufmanmusiccenter.org
Finally, if you’ve got your sea legs, check out Bargemusic, billed as “New York’s floating concert hall.” The barge is moored underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, and provides terrific concerts up to five nights a week—not to mention spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline. Don’t let the watery locale throw you; in the last few seasons, Bargemusic has been the setting for pianist Donald Berman’s recital of Berio, Fauré, Wheeler and Ives, plus programs of Beethoven sonatas and Liszt soliloquies. Fulton Ferry Landing, DUMBO, Brooklyn, 718.624.4924, bargemusic.org
So, the bottom line: If you can’t find the music you want to hear, you’re just not looking hard enough. We’ve got it here, somewhere!