Facts You Didn’t Know About Jazz in NYC

While New Orleans holds the honor of being the home to jazz music, New York City has continuously influenced the development and richness of this booming genre for many years since. The Big Apple hold bragging rights to claim themselves as the jazz capital of the world, but in the past few years, the local scene has surged in a special way. With new festivals and series such as the NYC Winter JazzFest, targeting young listeners, along with the vitality of old standbys like Jazz at Lincoln Center, it is the entire NYC jazz scene that has joined forces to revive Jazz music’s status from old school classy to an authentically hip genre. To celebrate this year’s Winter Jazzfest, we’ve gathered 10 fun facts about Jazz in NYC you might not know about.

1– “The Big Apple” nickname was coined by New York jazz musicians in the 1930s, whose habits of using the nickname to reference their hometown in their songs spread this nickname outside of the city.

Jazz in New York

(Photo by Andrew M.)

2– The Original Dixieland Jazz Band that played in New York in 1917, was one of the first successful jazz groups in the city

3Duke Ellington established an orchestra that was greatly noted for its sophistication in its long-running appearance at New York’s Cotton Club. Which is where we take you every Monday and Thursday nights on our Soul Food and Jazz Tour.

4– Billy Holiday debuted Strange Fruit in a 1939 performance at Cafe Society, New York’s first inclusive and integrated nightclub.

Mary Osborne, Vi Redd & Dottie Dodgion Rochester, N.Y. June 1977(Photo by Tom Marcello– Flickr)

5– Ever since most of Chicago’s top musicians moved to New York around mid to late 1920s, New York City has been the Jazz Mecca. And yes, nearly every major jazz styles of the past seventy years have been initiated in the Big Apple.

6: – Tito Puente, donned the “King of Latin Jazz,” was born in Harlem and the city renamed East 110th Street as “Tito Puente Way.”

7– In 1996, more than eighty hours of Bill Evans’s previously unknown recordings of live gigs between 1966 to 1980 were discovered at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village.

8– One of the most significant figures in Jazz music history, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born in Washington, D.C. and began studying the piano at the age of seven. He started playing jazz as a teenager, and moved to New York City to become a bandleader.

9– The first piano style to be incorporated into jazz was stride, which was developed from ragtime in New York.

 Mickey Roker - Ben Brown - Dizzy Gillespie & a hidden Rodney Jones Buffalo, N.Y. 1977(Photo by Tom Marcello– Flickr)

 10– Cabaret as a form of entertainment began in New York City during the prohibition era of the 1920’s when a large number of bars provided many aspiring jazz musicians with new venues. The Cotton Club was the most famous of all the Harlem night spots.


While the NYC Winter Jazzfest was initially created to present the hottest jazz bands in New York in the past, the one-night festival has now become a five-night affair featuring over 120 different acts. For more on Jazz in New York City, and the rest of the Harlem, join us on our Soul Food & Jazz tour! Also, if you are interested in finding more to do in New York City, search through our complete range of tours, attractions and activities. We can also tailor-make programs specifically to match your desires and budgets. Harlem Spirituals is the ideal one-stop-shop to simplify your planning! Find more information on www.harlemspirituals.com or contact us at info@harlemspirituals.com.

Do you have go to spots for Jazz music in the Big Apple? Tell us about it in the comments!




Then & Now: Harlem Renaissance to Today