Top 10 American music cities you must visit


Music is in the bones of this boozy bar town on the muddy Mississippi's riverbanks: buskers twang, people dance in the streets and haunting saxophone tones drift from alleys. Mainstream night-clubbers and undiscerning jazz-goers head to raucous Bourbon Street, but you'll find both a more historic and cutting-edge jazz scene around Frenchman Street in legendary establishments such as Blue Nile, Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro (which often features the Marsalis family) and Palm Court Jazz Café, where you can buy jazz memorabilia, dine on Creole food and listen to class acts.

Congo Square is where jazz reputedly emerged from West African slave rhythms, and is now dedicated to Louis Armstrong. Don't miss Preservation Hall, the town's most authentic jazz venue: a rickety, sweltering old building with wooden benches and often standing room only, but with music to satisfy the soul. See


Blues, soul and rock 'n' roll all originated out of Memphis and its steamy, cotton-planted surrounds. Music greats such as Al Green, Otis Reading and BB King have called the Tennessee city home, and Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion brings fans flocking to inspect faux fur and pink Cadillacs. Stop by old-time diner The Arcade for Elvis' favourite snack, peanut-butter and banana sandwiches, then don your blue suede shoes for a walk through the town's musical sites, including Sun Studio, Stax Museum (which replicates another legendary soul-music recording studio) and Gibson Guitar Factory, which assembles guitars good enough for the likes of Herb Ellis and Chuck Berry.

Run through musical history at the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, listening to more than 100 soundtracks as you go. At night, hit Beale Street's clubs for live soul, gospel and blues music. See


The blues slithered up the highway from Memphis into Chicago and became firmly established in the Windy City from the mid-1940s onwards, when leading lights Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong followed. This is a city to haunt juke joints, blues bars and dodgy pubs where the live music makes you sit up from your beer. Local female singers are the speciality of club Blue Chicago, guitarists usually feature at B.L.U.E.S., and Buddy Guy's Legends dishes up top singers and Louisiana cuisine.

Smoke Daddy provides blues and occasional folk acts, along with famous smoked ribs and pulled pork. The September Chicago Jazz Festival is a long weekend tradition, but the June Chicago Blues Festival is more particularly blues oriented, and attracts half a million people to listen to America and the world's top performers. See


Nashville has undergone a transformation in recent years, with buzzing new inner-city suburbs, a revamped Musicians Hall of Fame and a newly opened Johnny Cash Museum. Music lovers can still boot-scoot down to the entertaining Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Old Opry, the fabled radio show that discovered Dolly Parton. For live music, head to Second Avenue in the part of town known as The District, where many of the live venues congregate, or make the pilgrimage to the now-expanded Ryman Auditorium, country music's spiritual home.

Although country music reigns, Nashville is also noted for gospel and rap, and has produced singers such as Donna Summer, Sheryl Crow, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift. Coldplay and Aerosmith play Bridgestone Arena, and home-town groups such as Kings of Leon and Black Keys have given Nashville a new rock reputation. See


The city that brought the world mass-produced motorcars acquired the nickname Motor Town, later condensed in the record label Motown that made pop-influenced soul music mainstream. Visit the two simple houses in which Berry Gordy started Motown and created the studio where The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Stevie Wonder were recorded in the 1960s. Today, the blues and jazz scene is still humming along in Detroit's clubs, albeit faltering with the city's falling fortunes. Cliff Bell's is a wonderfully restored Art Deco venue, while Gem Theatre is another architectural Jazz Age gem, still featuring live jazz, comedy and cabaret.


Baker's Keyboard Lounge claims to be the world's oldest jazz club; noted jazz players tread the boards as diners tuck into soul food. September's Detroit Jazz Festival is the largest free jazz festival in the United States. See


The 1970s saw hip-hop emerge from The Bronx's block parties; as with New York's population, the music was a melting pot of influences from Africa and the Caribbean. The hip-hop trail starts at iconic Apollo Theatre, at the centre of Afro-American music since it gave Ella Fitzgerald her break and hosted everyone from Arethra Franklin to James Brown. Graham Court is another place of pilgrimage: the likes of Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong and Jimi Hendrix stayed here, and it features in the now-classic 1991 hip-hop movie New Jack City.

Along Harlem's 125th Street, hip-hop boutiques provide the latest in street-cred fashion. The street is also home to Harlem Record Shack, which sells everything from hip-hop to doo-wop, jazz to gospel. Bronx Walk of Fame on 161st Street celebrates hip-hop legends such as Grandmaster Flash, Rock Steady Crew and Afrika Bambaataa. See


Grunge music, influenced by punk and heavy metal, emerged in 1990s Seattle, and produced such bands as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Nirvana cut its first demo (and many other bands recorded) in a building on Leary Way, and debuted Smells Like Teen Spirit in the OK Hotel Gallery. Other quintessential grunge venues include the Moore Theatre, Comet Tavern and Hattie's Hat bar, where you can enjoy rock trivia nights. But the best thing in Seattle is the extraordinary EMP, which started as a simple museum to Seattle native Jimi Hendrix. Its Hendrix gallery charts the musician's life and creative evolution, and displays his electric guitars and rare footage of the master in action. The very interactive music museum kept growing, however, and now covers most American pop, with a focus on north-west rock and grunge. See


This extraordinary city, rising from the Nevada desert like a neon-draped mirage, is adept at keeping visitors so entertained they overlook the money lost in casinos. Although it doesn't produce its own music, that makes it an outstanding venue for live acts to suit all musical tastes. Big-name voices such as Barry Manilow, Nicki Minaj, The Rolling Stones, Elton John and The Wiggles perform regularly. Currently Celine Dion is back at Caesars Palace and Donny & Marie are playing at the Flamingo. Vegas is also the place to catch big musicals such as Jersey Boys, which charts the rise of Frankie Valli. Meanwhile, dozens of live-music venues include everything from House of Blues and Garden Arena to the blue-collar Double Down Saloon. For wild fun, join in bar-top dancing at Coyote Ugly Saloon, just as in the movie. See


Everything is bigger and better in Texas, especially when it comes to live, outdoor music events. Austin claims (with some justification) to be the 'Live Music Capital of the World' – you'll even find live music in the airport arrivals lounge and some city supermarkets. Among the big-name festivals is mid-March's South by Southwest, which features more than 2000 performers at 100 venues, and November's Fun Fun Fun Fest for electronic music, indie rock, punk and hip-hop. The more family-oriented Austin City Limits Music Festival covers similar sounds, plus folk music, and runs in early October.

Even when festivals aren't happening, you'll find music of all genres in any of 250 live venues; Continental Club (blues and rock), Elephant Room (jazz) and The Broken Spoke (country) are considered among the best. Moody Theatre is the state-of-the-art venue for regular headline touring acts. See


If you're keen to get into the spirit of a white (or at least cold) Christmas, then Washington DC is perfect in December for carols, classical music and good cheer. The season officially starts when the US president lights the National Christmas Tree; there are live music concerts around it over the following three weeks. Hanukkah is also celebrated with a menorah lighting and music from army bands. The capital hosts several ballet versions of The Nutcracker Suite and performances of The Messiah, some of which invite the audience to sing along to the Hallelujah chorus. The Kennedy Centre and Washington National Cathedral host various seasonal concerts, such as recitals of baroque music, and the National Gallery of Art has a series of courtyard concerts featuring Christmas music. Choirs warble carols across the city: music to chilly ears. See