The first jazz musicians who arrived in Amsterdam were black American soldiers, jammin’ away with this strange music that no-one had ever heard before. Cotton Club at Nieuwmarkt and Casablanca at the Zeedijk at the Red Light District were the first bars that hosted live jazz Amsterdam.
In 2012, a brand new jazz bar opened: North Sea Jazz Club, named after the famous Dutch jazz festival in Rotterdam.
Here are 10 live jazz bars in Amsterdam
Centre of town
1. Cotton club
The Cotton Club on Nieuwmarkt first opened its doors in 1940, named not so jazzy: Café Smit, after its owner (Smit is the most common Dutch surname).
After the war, Suriname immigrants and black American soldiers introduced jazz and marijuana into the Amsterdam scene, an excellent combination that would last until this very day.
Owner Annie Smit soon fell in love with Suriname trompet- player Teddy ‘jazzcat’ Cotton and a name change of the bar followed.
If the Cotton Club could speak, it certainly would have some great stories to tell.
Live Jazz at Amsterdam Cotton Club only on Saturday afternoon.
At the Red Light District, Café Casablanca is still a live jazz bar. There is live jazz, big, band, soul on all weekdays. Every first Tuesday of the month, famed Amsterdam saxophone player Hans Dulfer (father of Candy) takes the stage. In between you can grab the mic for you own jazzy vocals because they really enjoy blasting out karaoke here.
Free entrance. Be early, gets very crowded.
Bimhuis has been Amsterdam’s most important stage for live jazz music since it opened in 1974, favoured internationally by people such as Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra.
Since 2005 Bimhuis is located at Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, just east of Central Station in a newly developed area with breathtaking views on the IJ water. Bimhuis is all for new developments in live jazz music and can programme quite adventurous (experimental), so check programming first.
The Bimhuis also has a restaurant, a late night bar and a sunny terrace along the water.
Take either the 25 or 26 tram from Central Station (one stop).
4. Café van Leeuwen
Located near Rembrandtplein at Keizersgracht is Café van Leeuwen, that hosts small jazz combo’s on Sunday afternoon from 17.00 – 20.00. Slightly yupopy-audience. Free entrance.
Café Nel states on the website that they have the best terrace for outside dining in Amsterdam and that is probably true. They also have really nice live jazz every Monday night during their Live Jazz NeL Sessions. Usually they are young musicians from Amsterdam who take the stage. Free entrance.
6. Jazz Café Amsterdam Alto
Alto, located near Leidseplein has live jazz music every night. The clientèle is diverse, serving students, musicians, locals and tourists, business tourism as well as happy campers. Alto is a typical Amsterdam brown bar and though smoking is banned like elsewhere, the walls are have soaking up the nicotine for years, so it still feels like a real jazz bar. It’s small with few seats and during weekends it can fill up pretty quickly.
Regular nights are the Amsterdam jazz café are Monday with Hein van der Gaag, (piano-boogie woogie), Tuesday with latin jazz by Conjunto Amsterdam, wednesday with Hans Dulfer and Sundays are for Saskia Laroo.
7. ‘t Geveltje
Beginners are welcome on the stage of ‘t Geveltje. Every Thursday there is a jazz session in this cosy brown bar in the Jordaan. The cafe once started singing traditional Dutch folk music around 25 years ago, moved to organising workshops and jams session in the 80s and slowly focussing more and more to jazz. Since 1990 it’s a full on jazz-café.
8. Wicked Jazz Sounds
Wicked Jazz Sounds celebrates its 10 year anniversary in 2012. The organisation includes dj’s and musicians, management, radio show, club nights in Amsterdam and Utrechtand record label. It still holds its Sunday night regular at Sugar Factory, across the Melkweg at Leidseplein. Expect a mellow mixture of jazz, funk, soul, hip hop, disco, electronic, Latin and house. Entrance €9,50.
9. Café Luxembourg
Café Luxembourg on Spui is what we call a ‘grand café. Grand café’s are most of all spacious with a timeless interior. Luxembourg has been through some renovations, but the parquet floor, marble bar have been untouched, only polished.
On Friday you can listen to jazz while sip your coffee or beer. From 19.00, free entrance.
Outside the centre
10. North Sea Jazz Club
North Sea Jazz Club is a new club, opened in 2012. It is located at Westergasfabriek, where it is now 1 of three night time venues at this great spot. The live jazz club in Amsterdam says it wants to organise a ‘complete night out’: dinner, live jazz music and dancing (DJ’s).
To persuade jazz artists to perform, the (small), jazz club in Amsterdam is cooperating with famous Dutch jazz festival North Sea Jazz Festival (in Rotterdam). This results a programming of jazz in the broadest sense: from jazz and funk, soul and hiphop to lounge and electronic music.
Clientèle is young, Amsterdam-hip, non-smoky and white. But hey, we’ll give it a try when the new-ness wears off..
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