Hop off the bus and stop in on three off-the-beaten path jazz joints along the way for live jazz shows that will surprise and thrill everyone from the jazz newcomer to the aficionado. Three sets of music are included in this tour, but none of them at tourist traps. You will also be invited to dine on delicious soul food (Southern home cooking) in a real down-home atmosphere - also included in the tour price!
The 5-hour tour is run at an enjoyably relaxing pace. The commentary will cover Harlem's role in the development of jazz styles from swing and big band through bebop and the great vocalists like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
We will visit a few current jazz venues to hear great jam sessions being played by Harlem locals; and see locations such as:
- The original Cotton Club
- Savoy Ballroom
- Minton's Playhouse
- Lafayette Theater
- Apollo Theater
- "Great Day in Harlem" stoop
- Duke Ellington's home
- Billie Holiday's haunts
- Count Basie's Club
- EZ's Woodshed
- St. Nick's Pub
- Lenox Lounge
- Jazz Museum
- Jazz Walk of Fame
- Smalls Paradise
- Big Apple Club
All ages are welcome. And if you are a jazz musician or vocalist, you will get a chance to join the jam.
What Is Not Included?
You may wish to bring some extra dollars to tip musicians, driver, guide and servers.
- Is advanced purchase required? Can I pay cash?
- Advance purchase is strongly encouraged as tours often sell out in advance. If you do not have a credit card and need to pay in cash, you can buy tickets at the meeting spot only if there is still room, and your spots will not be guaranteed in advance! To ensure your attendance, please book online or over the phone using a Visa, Mastercard, or American Express.
- Will we stop for food?
- There will be time set aside for group members to enjoy a full meal at one of the live jazz venues. The menu will include several soul food meals to choose from with two side dishes as well. (This is not a fancy meal, but a tasty and filling introduction to Harlem cuisine - some of the best prepared food uptown).
- Are food and drinks included in the tour price?
- Drinks are not included, but a modest dinner is. The menu will include several soul food selections like fried chicken, meat loaf, fried fish, and ox tails to choose from. Also, two side dishes like macaroni and cheese, rice, collard greens, string beans, and potato salad. (This is not a fancy meal, but a tasty and filling introduction to Harlem cuisine - some of the best prepared food uptown).
- Is there an age restriction for this tour?
- All ages are welcome. Parents and guardians will be expected to monitor their childrens' behavior. Please note that children who want their own seat must have a reduced price child ticket in order to attend, but those that will share a seat with an adult (sit on a parent's lap) can attend for free and do not need a ticket.
- Where will the tour begin and end?
- The tour begins and ends at the same spot along 125th Street, the main drag of Harlem. This meeting place is accessible by subways, buses, cabs, and has free street parking available if you're driving.
- Are cameras allowed?
- In most cases you will be able to take pictures at all the sites and jazz clubs. Flash photography during a show should be kept to a minimum. Musicians will very often be happy to meet you, and take photos with you in between sets.
- Is there a dress code?
- Our typical answer is to come-as-you-are. This tour involves walking for a block or two at various stops, so sensible shoes are recommended. Your guide will be dressed neatly and comfortably, and trying to look cool. But it is fair to warn you that church day in Harlem means that many of the locals will be wearing their "Sunday Best."
- How long is the tour?
- This tour lasts for 5 hours.
- How much walking is there on the tour?
- The tour takes place mostly in the mini-bus but there will be some minor walking involved at a few tour sites. The walking is not strenuous and should be easy for any tour participant!
- Is the bus climate-controlled?
- Yes, the mini-bus is heated in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer for your convenience.
- Is seating on the bus assigned?
- No, seating is first-come first-served, so please arrive early if you'd like to sit in a particular spot on the bus.
- Is there time to do some shopping during the tour?
- No, the tour doesn't have any stops for shopping, but there is some shopping at the meeting spot so we ask that you shop before or after the tour. There will often be opportunities to get autographed CDs of the musicians we hear perform.
- Will there be restrooms available?
- Yes, there will be 3 venues where you can use the restroom during the tour.
- Can I come late or leave early?
- It is possible to attend the tour late or leave early, provided that you can meet up with or leave the tour at a location on its predetermined route. To see if your request fits into our route, please click on the "Contact NewYorkJazz" link and let us know what you'd prefer. Otherwise we'd be happy to direct you to a nearby subway station or cab if you need to leave early!
- Can I bring food or drinks?
- Unfortunately no food or drinks are allowed on the bus other than a bottle of water per passenger. Remember that there will be food and drink available for purchase at the clubs we visit!
- Is the tour wheelchair accessible?
- Unfortunately the mini-bus is not wheelchair accessible.
- Can I bring luggage or large personal items with me?
- Because of limited space on the mini-bus, please try to limit the number and size of personal belongings you bring with you. Strollers, luggage, and other large items cannot easily be accommodated.
- Is Harlem and the meeting spot safe?
- No place we go on the tour is unsafe, and our meeting spot is the safest of all!
- Are there any cover charges I'll have to pay?
- There are no cover charges at any of the places we visit. However, there will be the opportunity to tip the performers, so please keep that in mind!
- Do you sell gift certificates?
- Yes, and they make a great gift for any special occasion! To request a gift certificate, please click on the "Contact NewYorkJazz" link.
- Can I do a private tour?
- Yes, we do have private tours available for groups and they can be customized according to your preferences. To request a private tour, please click on the "Contact NewYorkJazz" link and let us know what you're interested in doing!
- Non-refundable, cannot be rescheduled.
- Once purchased, tickets cannot be refunded and cannot be rescheduled because your space is being guaranteed at the event.
- Activity takes place rain or shine.
- The activity runs regardless of weather conditions. In the rare situation where the seller is forced to cancel the event, ticket-holders will be allowed to reschedule to another time (subject to availability).
- Non-paying children must share a seat with an adult.
- Children that require their own seat on the mini-bus must have a discounted child's ticket in order to attend. Any children that will sit on the lap of a parent do not need a ticket in order to attend.
Big Apple Jazz Tours
"This tour, hosted by New York jazz expert Gordon Polatnick, is the real deal for jazz buffs." ~ Brian Silverman, Frommer's New York City 2009 & New York City For Dummies
Big Apple Jazz has been featured in major TV, Radio, Newpaper, and Magazines around the world such as:
New York Times; NBC-TV; NY1 NEWS TV; London Times (UK); All About Jazz; New York; Associated Press; NYC-TV show: $9.99; NY Daily News; and Live Door News.
“Gordon, Thanks a million for the fabulous Harlem jazz experience you mastered so wonderfully! I wish all my colleagues from the UN could hear your charming stories and insights, or the fantastic jam sessions you gave us the chance to enjoy in some cool clubs. My stay in New York would have been much poorer without this tour! Thanks for opening my eyes to the places where I can have the most authentic and thrilling jazz experiences!!! I’ll be back!”
~ Ambassador Simona Miculescu,
Permanent Representative of Romania to the UN