Updated: Mar 6
When you’re looking for a different vibe (and sound), come uptown! Have you explored the uptown Manhattan music scene? There are a multitude of small music venues, particularly above 96th Street, some of which are in discreet, locally beloved venues. You’ll also find a lot of mom-and-pop restaurants that often play host to nightly jams from local talents, making it easy to find music almost any night of the week.
While we plan to cover several uptown neighborhoods, in this post we will pay tribute to Central Harlem, specifically 110th to 155th streets from Frederick Douglass to 5th Avenue. Here are our favorite venues, as well as two music festivals happening in the area this month!
253 West 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell & Frederick Douglass Boulevards
You don’t need us to tell you about the Apollo Theater. It’s known worldwide. The main stage hosts the renowned Amateur Night and many other headliners while the Soundstage features smaller acts, film screenings and more.
148 West 133rd Street between Adam Clayton Powell & Frederick Douglass Boulevards
Bill’s Place is tucked away on a side street on the lower level of one of the brownstones that line the block, one of the slimmest (16’) at that. Bill Saxton might greet you before he picks up his sax. Everyone is friendly and you can bring your own wine, beer, or cheese plate. You must get tickets in advance (shows are Friday and Saturday nights) and arrive early for the best seats.
300 West 116th Street just west of Frederick Douglass Blvd
Find the side door to Silvana’s Middle Eastern Café and head down to the lower level. You never know what you might find in this bohemian venue. The focus is jazz.
100 West 124th Street on Lenox Avenue
Starting in April, you can catch some casual live music on the patio on Saturdays from 5:00-8:00 pm and Sundays 3:00-5:00pm.
26 Macombs Place, where Macombs meets Frederick Douglass Blvd. at 150th Street
Lucille’s is a locally beloved spot that has music every Wednesday and Thursday at 8pm. We visited on a Thursday night recently for the Ruben Fox Band and it was a lot of fun. Go for the Sicilian pizza (they call it square) that comes from their new pizza spot next door and enjoy the music.
341 Saint Nicholas Ave. at 127th Street
Maison Harlem is the corner bar (and French bistro) “where everybody knows your name.” They have music a few nights a week, with no set schedule. We hear the reggae band is the one to catch.
107 West 130th Street between Lenox & Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.
JMIH is dedicated to making jazz accessible to everyone, and they do this through both online and in-person programming.
58 West 129th Street between Lenox & 5th Ave.
Founded in 1904, NAMA (New Amsterdam Musical Association) is the oldest African American musical organization in the United States. BYOB!
2835 Frederick Douglass Blvd at 150th Street
We’ve heard this is another must stop for the Jamaican food and the music. We’ll get there soon and post our updates!
310 Lenox Ave between 124th and 125th Street
Their current music schedule includes Sunday Gospel Brunch, Monday night Soul Sessions with Ahmaya Knoelle and Friends (singers from the gospel choir), and Sunday night jazz with Nate Lucas.
271 West 119th Street between Frederick Douglass & St. Nicholas
Look for the blue light outside Brunch Harlem (formerly BSquared or Billie’s Black) and take the narrow metal stairwell down to Room 623, an intimate space with couches and comfy chairs scattered around. Jazz singer and songwriter Marcus Goldhaber is the host programmer, with sets on Wednesday and Friday through Saturday.
2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. between 133rd and 134th Street
Shrine opened in 2007 as a platform for independent artists and bands to develop their fan base. They have a packed music schedule every day, which can range from jazz to Afro pop or rock.
This pop-up event usually happens on Malcolm X Blvd (Lenox Avenue) at 120th on the stoop. To catch the next one, you'll have to follow @thesoapboxpresents on Instagram or have friends in the neighborhood who know when to be there.
DJ Stormin’ Norman is synonymous with Harlem. He’s the founder of Sundae Sermon, an annual uptown summer Sunday music fest that’s now taking on new forms after outgrowing Morningside and St. Nicholas Parks.
2292 Frederick Douglass Blvd at 123rd Street
On Monday nights, this intimate cocktail lounge hosts a popular jazz trio.
449 Lenox Ave between 132ndand 133rd Street
With an intimate storefront and $10 cover charge, you'll be able to enjoy live music with a glass of wine and pretzels. This popular club is open for weekly Sunday sessions, from 4-7 p.m.
Upcoming Events (March)
515 Malcolm X Blvd
Every March the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture features three weekends of incredible concerts highlighting women of the African diaspora and their contributions to the sounds of jazz.
Shrine World Music Venue Live Events
2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd
Leading up to the annual Mafrika Music Festival in June, Shrine Restaurant and Bar features a broad schedule of live music events, with new talents showcased nearly every day of the week—from reggae to Jazz.