Jazz, rock, soul, R&B, funk, urban blues, hip hop… these music genres are to New York like how opera is to Italy. Last month, we showed you 8 iconic, not-to-be-missed landmarks in London to thrill the music lover. Today, follow us on a virtual tour through New York as we explore the iconic, infamous and inspirational must-dos in the Empire State.
See the “home” of the creative musicians at the infamous Hotel Chelsea
There’s nothing more representative of New York’s thriving music scene in its heyday than Hotel Chelsea. Infamously known as the hotel where Sex Pistols drummer Sid Vicious’s girlfriend Nancy Spungen was found dead, Hotel Chelsea was once home to heavyweights like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Dee Dee Ramone, Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Tom Waits and more.
The 12-storey, 250-room bohemian-gothic building on 23rd Street in Chelsea, New York might not be a place for luxury-minded holiday-goers, but is a must-see for die-hard music fans. This was where Boy Dylan penned songs for his Blonde On Blonde album (1966), and where Leonard Cohen’s brief romance with Janis Joplin inspired him to write the explicit “Chelsea Hotel #2” based on their “social interaction”. Madonna’s raunchy book, Sex (1992) also included images shot in Hotel Chelsea’s Room 822.
What’s next for Hotel Chelsea: After a long hiatus, the hotel is still closed to public. While renovation plans are underway, the reopening date is still unknown. Even so, it’s worth a visit just to get a feel of the neighbourhood.
Take a tour around the city’s iconic musical landmarks
If a trip to NY is in the works, try to plan your visit in June, because that’s when the city celebrates New York Music Month. This year, one of the highlights of the festival included a free two-hour walk, which kicked off at the Washington Square arch, taking you through Greenwich Village, East Village and the Bowery. On your own, you too can follow the trail of the walk and feast your eyes and senses on iconic locations like the Village Vanguard (one of the most famous jazz clubs ever), Cafe Wha? (where Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix used to hang out, though not together) and CBGB (known as “the punk rock headquarters of the world”), to name a few.
The Lincoln Center for The Performing Arts (or simply Lincoln Center) is a massive 16.3-acre complex, housing 30 indoor and outdoor performance facilities like the 9,000-seat Metropolitan Opera House, the New York Philharmonic’s home stage, the New York City Ballet theater, and more. But the one that takes the cake is The Appel Room, located within Jazz at Lincoln Center at Columbus Circle.
Offering one of New York City’s most dramatic and breathtaking backdrops (imagine a floor-to-ceiling, 50’ by 83’ glass wall that overlooks Central Park), catching a performance here, especially in the evening, is bound to blow your mind. Design based on a Green amphitheater with adjustable tiers for multiple seating options, The Appel Room seats up to 600 guests, and has served as the venue for many jazz greats like Joe Lovano, Cécile McLorin Salvant and Melissa Aldana. See what’s on at Jazz at Lincoln Center here.
Did you know: From 2011 to 2013, The Appel Room was used as the studio for Anderson Live, a TV talk show hosted by Anderson Cooper.
Drop by Marjorie Eliot’s living room on a Sunday for a live jazz performance
For the past 25 years, jazz pianist Marjorie Eliot has opened her home to public. Every Sunday, music lovers flock to her living room at Apartment 3-F, 555 Edgecombe Avenue, to be part of a special treat. Harlem’s “secret jazz queen of Sugar Hill”, as Eliot is called, puts on an impressive show for an intimate crowd. Often times joined by a talented crew of performers, you’ll feel goosebumps travel up your spine when you watch them play. All you need to do is show up at 3.30pm on a Sunday afternoon.
For more living room performances: Intimate, secret-style gigs are picking up traction in New York; Sofar Sounds and Groupmuse are tapping into the demand for living room concerts. The concept is pretty unique – you can either reserve a spot as a guest, offer your space as a venue, or put your hidden musical skills in the spotlight as a performer. The best way to enjoy this is to go in without expecting anything – that way, you’ll be utterly surprised in the best way possible, and get to make a few like-minded friends along the way.
Be the jury and discover new talent at Amateur Night, Apollo Theatre
Fancy yourself a music critic? Then a trip to the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem is not to be missed. As the first-ever venue to allow black performers at a time when most were denied entry into theaters, Apollo Theatre was where the Jacksons, James Brown and Ella Fitzgerald kicked off their careers. It was also here that Jay-Z was introduced to the crowd by Biggie Smalls as a new artist.
Every Wednesday, the theater hosts its Amateur Night for hopefuls who try to impress the audience with their musical prowess. The talent show’s slogan says it all: “be good or be gone”. And if you don’t think the performer is good enough, you get to exercise your booing power to get them off the stage. With over 80 years of history, this open-mic night is the mother of all reality shows, way before The Voice or X Factor – and it’s live. Notable Amateur Night alum include Lauryn Hill, Michael Jackson, Steve Harvey, Jamie Foxx, Dave Chapelle, Ne-Yo and Machine Gun Kelly.
Enjoy booze and bites in an underground vinyl listening room
Hidden in the basement of Air’s Champagne Parlor, Tokyo Record Bar is not your run-of-the-mill restaurant. They prefer to call themselves an “underground listening room”, and for good reason. Before you settle down for food and drinks, you’ll be asked to choose a song you want to listen to. The DJ will then line up your selection in the evening’s playlist – all on vinyl.
Like a giant, dynamic jukebox, made all the merrier with new faces and Izakaya dining, Tokyo Record Bar is a great place to wind down (or hyped up, after a few drinks) with tunes you’ll know, love or want to discover more about. And because it can only accommodate 18 patrons per seating, we highly recommend making a reservation before going there.
Can’t get enough? Tokyo Record Bar’s sister establishment, Special Club, is inspired by throwback musical social clubs, offering live jazz, blues and soul performances accompanied your poison of choice: wine, cocktails or sake.
Stay at the motel that the Rolling Stones named one of its songs after
Hannah honey was a peachy kind of girl / Her eyes were hazel / And her nose were slightly curved / We spent a lonely night at the Memory Motel / It's on the ocean, I guess you know it well
The Rolling Stones’ song, “Memory Motel”, off their 1976 Black and Blue album was inspired by the very hotel of the same name. The song itself is over seven minutes long, written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards while staying at Andy Warhol’s house in Montauk. In the song, Jagger sings about leaving for Baton Rouge and his subsequent experiences on the road.
Located in Montauk, Long Island, Memory Motel & Bar still stands to this day. The bar is a popular party spot, and if you’d like a vintage, no-frills place to stay in while you contemplate your future music career or scribble down some lyrics, the motel is open for the summer.
While you’re there: Memory Motel also houses a pop-up accessory store called FIN, which sells gold- and silver- dipped fossilized shark teeth, ethically-sourced by shark wrangler Bella Ornaf. Collected from the bottom of the ocean, these shark teeth are fashioned into stylish accessories, and a percentage of the sales goes to shark conservation organizations.
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Cover Image: Sonar Sounds
Writer | Michelle Tan
Lover of all things bizarre, Michelle has a soft spot for dinosaurs, raccoons and a strong G&T. Her lifelong dream is to become an urban hermit.