Your jazz guide knows all the wildest and most intimate hidden juke joints and will share the insider’s view with you. You'll hang out at at least two live music joints, (but most tours visit three), for hours of swinging live jazz.
To get the authentic feel for the neighborhood, this is a subway, taxi, walking and/or MTA bus tour that is limited to the first 8 people to sign up (exceptions can sometimes be made).
Your jazz guide will be checking around to put together the best tour for each given night, based on the talent performing that night in Harlem's best clubs --among them:
- The renown “Birthplace of Bebop”
- A members' only club that dates back to the 20’s
- A 1960's vintage dive bar
- A Hammond B3 organ lounge from the 40’s
- A soul food club or a greasy spoon w/ live jazz
- A swinging beatnik hang out with a great vibe
- A speakeasy with roots going back to Prohibition
Best ages are 18 and over. And if you are a jazz musician or vocalist, you may get a chance to join the jam.
The tour starts early, but rest assured there's great music that shouldn't be missed happening in hidden spots all hours of the day and night. And if you would like to keep going after the rest of the group goes off to bed, your guide will offer great advice for more clubs and transportation options back downtown.
What Is Not Included?
- 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! We will make every effort to include you if possible. To ensure your attendance though, please book online or over the phone using a Visa, Mastercard, or American Express.
- Will I need to bring cash or will credit cards be OK?
- You will find that bringing extra cash for drinks, food, tipping musicians, servers, and guide will be useful on this tour. Some venues accept credit cards but many do not. Safety regarding carrying cash is not a concern - and hasn't been for the past 16 years of this tour's existence.
- Is there an age restriction for this tour?
- This tour is best suited for participants ages 18 and over. However, exceptions are made. Please note the age of these participants in the notes section when purchasing the tickets, so we may prepare the best itinerary.
- Will we stop for food?
- Yes. We will start off at a jazz joint that serves great soul food. In the event that we end up at clubs that don't serve food, we will make every effort to find something great to eat along the way.
- Are food and drinks included in the tour price?
- No, but food and drink will be made available. In the event that we go to a club where patrons bring their own "adult beverage," we will stop along the way for you to purchase beer, wine or liquor, if you wish. Regarding price range for food, it will usually land somewhere between $10 and $25 for full meals + drinks.
- Can I bring food or drinks?
- No, there will most often be food and drink available for purchase at the clubs we visit. If no food is available for some reason, we will make every effort to stop somewhere to pick something up - let your guide know if you're famished. On Friday nights we will often visit a club that has a BYOB policy, which means you can bring in your own "adult beverage." They do have soft drinks. We will be stopping along the way for those interested to pick up some beer, wine or liquor.
- Where will the tour begin and end?
- The tour begins and ends at the same Midtown spot at Columbus Circle--near the southwestern entrance to Central Park. This meeting place is accessible by subways, buses, cabs, and has commercial parking and very limited residential 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. In other words, be yourself and dress anyway you like. Keep in mind though, that air conditioning or lack of it could make a club too hot, too cold or just right. This tour involves some walking, so sensible shoes are recommended. Your guide will be dressed neatly and comfortably, and trying to look half-way cool and relaxed. But it is fair to say that in Harlem some of the locals will be styling while others will be very casual.
- How long is the tour?
- This tour lasts at least 4 hours, but often goes 5-hours or longer. If you know that you need to finish the tour at a particular time, we will be more than happy to accommodate you.
- 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 our route. Click on the "Contact NewYorkJazz" link and let us know what you have in mind so we can direct you to a proper meeting place at the appropriate time. Also, we'd be happy to direct you to a nearby subway station or cab if you need to leave early (or stay later at the final club).
- How much walking is there on the tour?
- There will be some walking involved, (4-15 blocks between clubs) based on the particular itinerary for the night. The walking is not strenuous and should be easy for any tour participant in sensible footwear. We do encounter subway stairs, though. Let us know ahead of time if you have issues and we will work them out.
- Is there time to do some shopping during the tour?
- No, the tour doesn't have any stops for shopping, but there is a guy we can introduce you to who hangs out at some of the clubs with an amazing collection of bootleg CDs and DVDs of the all-time best live jazz events and historic recordings. There are also sometimes paintings for sale by local artists on the scene, and some band members can autograph a copy of their CDs for you to purchase.
- Will there be restrooms available?
- Yes, there will be at least 2-3 clubs where you can use the restroom during the tour. The first restroom break will be at least a half-hour into the tour.
- Is the tour wheelchair accessible?
- People with wheelchairs that have some mobility with the assistance of those in their party to get down into subways and buses and tight spots are encouraged to come, but this tour is going to be tough otherwise.
- Can I bring luggage or large personal items with me?
- Because of limited space in the clubs, please refrain from bringing large personal items - unless it's a musical instrument and you intend to join the jam session.
- Is Harlem safe?
- Based on 16 years experience running this tour, no place we go is unsafe. In fact, you will be happy to know that most tour participants come away with the attitude that Harlem is the friendliest place to be in New York.
- Are there any cover charges I'll have to pay?
- All cover charges are taken care of by Big Apple Jazz Tours, so you will not be responsible for cover charges. However, there will be the opportunity to tip the performers, so please keep that in mind. We will be adding money to the tip bucket for the group, but guests often contribute a little extra if they like.
- Do you sell gift certificates?
- Yes, and they make a great gift for any special occasion, and can be used on our public and private tours! 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 small or large 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 and when! We cover all 5 boroughs of New York; and can even escort your group to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Ask for the moon and we'll get it for you.
- Can I bring more than 8 people?
- Although groups are limited to 8 people on this tour, exceptions can be made. To inquire about expanding the tour group size, please click on the "Contact NewYorkJazz" link and let us know how many people you have and what day you'd like to go! Someone will get back to you shortly.
- Can I go on a different day than what is listed in the schedule?
- Some additional tour dates may be added upon request. In order to request a specific day and time that is not already on our schedule, please click on the "Contact NewYorkJazz" link and let us know what you're interested in! Someone will get back to you shortly.
- 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).
- Physical ability notice.
- This tour involves some walking, stairs and taking of mass transit. All are welcome, but those using wheelchairs, crutches, or who require any extra assistance are advised to come with a travel partner that can help.
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 2013 & 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