The Best Jazz Venues in Melbourne

Rachel Chipp

Last year’s blockbuster La La Land shone a spotlight on jazz, claiming that it was a dying art form. If you ask anyone from Melbourne though, they would definitely disagree, while pointing the way to one of the city’s many teeming jazz clubs that cater for jazz lovers. No matter what your jazz preference, whether you want to dance around to big band or chill with some mellow smooth jazz, Melbourne has just the venue for you.

Bird’s Basement, CBD

Bird’s Basement follows a rich jazz legacy. As Miles Davis famously said, ‘You can tell the history of jazz in four words: Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker.’ Saxophonist, Charlie Parker, or Bird, as he was known in the jazz world, was a regular headliner in Birdland in New York in 1949. It was the place for Hollywood royalty to see and be seen throughout the 1950s, with Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland in regular attendance to watch the best jazz artists of all time in their prime, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk. Since then, it has extended its international reach, choosing none other than Melbourne to play host to its sister club, which opened in 2016.

Bird’s Basement firmly affixed its place on Melbourne’s jazz scene right from the opening night, paying homage to jazz’s roots with opening act Ravi Coltrane, the son of influential saxophonist and Charlie Parker’s equally pioneering peer, John Coltrane. Owned by Albert Dadon, recipient of an OAM for services to jazz, the Bird’s Basement is a gift from jazz aficionados to Melbourne jazz lovers.

This 200-seater venue follows the Birdland format with two shows in a row - the dinner show starts at 8pm, followed by the supper show at 10.30pm.

Paris Cat Jazz Club, CBD

As the name suggests, this cool cat purrs with a distinctive Parisian vibe, designed to capture the atmosphere of the post-war jazz scene in France. Located in a CBD laneway, this intimate dimly lit club plays host to international jazz artists and takes great pride in launching the careers of upcoming Australian performers. You can catch live jazz here from Wednesday to Saturday and on Fridays and Saturdays, you can enjoy three shows in a row!

Paris Cat Jazz Club provides a fantastic introduction to those who want to dip their toes into the Melbourne jazz scene, while enthralling jazz lovers alike. Jazz styles range from big band, swing, bebop and hot jazz of the ‘20s and ‘30s to cool jazz of the ‘40s and ‘50s. The jazz club also pays homage to the jazz legends with frequent tribute shows.

Uptown Jazz Café, Fitzroy

This trendy music spot hosts jazz artists from Wednesdays-Saturdays, with each day often comprising a different theme. The ever-popular BopStretch Wednesdays feature Australia’s most renowned bebop band as they embark on the 8th year of their residency. They play the tunes of the crème de la crème, including Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

Uptown Jazz Café prides itself on showcasing ‘the Melbourne sound’, characterised by its creative improvisation. Nowhere is this exemplified more than at Thursdays’ Melbourne Improvisers Collective. Witnessing two artists improvising as they riff off each other is a treat to the senses.

The fantastic Japanese menu is a defining feature of this live jazz venue. With only a $10 cover charge for quality entertainment, this cosy music spot is a bargain!

Dizzy’s, Richmond

Open Wednesday-Sunday, Dizzy’s centrepiece is its Big Band Night each Wednesday at 8pm, where its house band performs a range of uptempo showstoppers with brio. Feel the music put some pep in your step back into the glorious swing era when you make your way out onto the dance floor. There is a real zing to the energy in this place that is replete with high spirits all night long.

Dizzy’s also offers Open Mic nights where local jazz artists are given an open invitation to turn up, take to the stage and jam away. You can even make a real night of it and enjoy a full course Mediterranean dinner while you watch the shows.

303, Northcote

A good way to dip your toes into jazz’s purple water, if your usual preference is for another genre and you are looking to expand your musical repertoire, is to attend a jazz show in a music spot that you are already familiar with.

303 is a cool, quirky live music venue with an eclectic taste in musical interests, but it definitely shows a strong preference for jazz, featuring several jazz performances each week. Entry is often free or they simply ask for a donation, making it a casual way for the curious to make their initial foray into the jazz scene.

The Fitzroy Pinnacle, Fitzroy North

If you are looking for somewhere with great vibes to spend a relaxed Sunday Session, then you’ve found it. The beer garden hosts live jazz sessions on Sundays, ensuring that even your babies and pups can enjoy the chilled ambience too.

The Rook’s Return, Fitzroy

This friendly, welcoming and unpretentious speakeasy offers a delicious concoction of cocktails and provides a free jazz show on Wednesday nights, as it places proud host to its house band hepcats, The Rookies.

A Secret Place, CBD

An exciting option for a date would be this secret location that really lives up to its name. Their USP is that on Wednesday nights, they promise one of Melbourne’s finest jazz quartets and a meal in a secret location that will only be revealed to you after you book. This hook promotes a sense of intrigue, exclusivity and surprise - just what you want from a date night!

Rising Sun Hotel, South Melbourne

The Rising Sun Hotel is also successfully aligning its purpose with its name, as it is fast becoming a rising venue for live jazz in Melbourne. This sports bar continues its tradition as the proud home of Swans fans on game days, due to its proximity to the once South Melbourne Swans.

The passion of footy fans is swapped for those of jazz aficionados once the sun sets on Tuesday and Thursday nights as the hotel transforms into a jazz haven. The bands perfectly capture the essence of the post-war jazz era sound, prompting people to get up and jitterbug and lindy hop the night away, while also including dinner.

a man and woman dancing together while a jazz band plays

Lido Cinemas Jazz Room, Hawthorn

With high quality performers curated by Sonny Rehe, owner of Uptown Jazz Café, this hideaway exudes an aura of being a secret place that only true Melbourne jazz lovers have discovered. There is a sense of classiness and exclusivity as ticket holders descend the narrow stairway to a room beneath a cinema screen, each Friday and Saturday from 8pm-10pm, to sit in one of 40 available seats.

Taking its cue from Manhattan jazz bars of the 80s, jazz styles performed here are experimental, with eclectic mixes such as Latin, funk and drum and bass incorporated to create dynamic new sounds.

As an added bonus, emerging jazz performers have the chance to take to the stage on the first Sunday evening of every month, for the open Sunday Jam Sessions. Tickets for the Sunday sessions are $15, with a portion of the ticket sales going to the Melbourne Indigenous Transition School, which supports Indigenous children as they make the transition from rural communities to large urban schools.

Transit Rooftop Bar, CBD

Perched overlooking the Yarra River, the Transit Rooftop Bar combines the best of Melbourne’s late night scene - jazz and stunning rooftop views of the glowing city lights - to provide the perfect evening mix. As the sun sets, the candlelight and smooth, soulful sounds create a romantic atmosphere, making this the perfect location for a date night.

The Jazzlab, Brunswick

Bennett’s Lane Jazz Club was once the pillar of Melbourne’s jazz scene. Since it’s closure, the eminent founder, Michael Tortoni, who has also been Artistic Director for The Melbourne International Jazz Festival since 2009, has moved his deep lifelong passion for jazz into a new project as the phoenix rises from the ashes in the form of The Jazzlab.

Host of the Melbourne Jazz Co-Op on Sunday nights, this place takes its appreciation of jazz as an art form seriously. The Melbourne Jazz Co-op is a not-for-profit organisation whose goal is to increase people’s exposure to jazz, whilst also giving emerging jazz artists a platform to break onto the scene. Like Bennett’s Lane before it, it wants to give fresh local talent a chance to cut their teeth and shine.

The atmospheric venue satisfies feelings of nostalgia for Bennett’s Jazz Club, with chairs, tables, stools and a clock that all evoke reminiscence of its predecessor. Importantly, it also emanates a fresh energy, with its descending staircase centre stage, which allows artists to make a grand entrance from the green room and its incredible acoustics and views, even from right at the back of the room. The cosy atmosphere means that you never feel far from the centre of the action. The experience that Michael Tortoni gained from his years at Bennett’s Lane Jazz Club only serve to make this an improvement as he plunges his lifelong passion forward to shape and drive the future of Melbourne’s thriving jazz scene.

Tremolo has a fantastic selection of jazz artists that play in a variety of styles whether you are hosting a private event or are a venue seeking quality jazz performers.

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