New York: Sounds and the city

Musicals, jazz, classical or opera... you can't escape the rhythm of New York's streets, says Tom Hall
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The Independent Travel

Where do we start?

The history of New York City is writ large in the development of its music. Israel Zangwill first put forward the idea of the US as "the melting pot" in his 1908 Broadway play of the same name, and nearly a century later it applies to music in New York. Rock, jazz, blues, folk, hip-hop, art-rock, US punk... if it wore shades and made a noise, it probably did it here first. And as you'd expect in so wealthy a city, classical music, opera and seriously big gigs are almost as easy to find as a street-corner coffee stand.

A Broadway show as an overture?

For many visitors, a trip to New York is made by seeing a Broadway musical. The Theater District fans out from Times Square and includes Broadway and streets north of 42nd Street. This is the place for mainstream musical entertainment and where you'll find the ghosts of Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, plus Andrew Lloyd Webber and Mel Brooks, still going strong.

Current favourites include Monty Python's Spamalot, which won this year's Tony award for best musical. New openings include The Color Purple, Sweeney Todd, and The Woman In White.

Listings of musicals and other productions are available online at www.livebroadway.com. Details are also published in a number of magazines, including Village Voice ( www.villagevoice.com) and Time Out ( www.timeoutny.com).

Tickets for the most popular productions will need to be bought months in advance, and this can be done online. Weekday matinees are always a good bet if you're shopping ahead; otherwise, join the queue at one of the TKTS booths ( www.tdf.org/tkts), in Times Square at 47th Street and Broadway, or at the corner of Front and John Streets in South Street Seaport. They sell off discounted tickets - anything from 25 to 50 per cent of the normal price - for shows on the day of performance.

Something cool and mellow

The Big Apple has a thriving jazz scene. New York has played host to all the greats - Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker - and the legacy of these legends lingers to this day in venues across the city.

The best jazz stops are found in Greenwich Village. Check out Arthur's Tavern at 57 Grove Street at Seventh Avenue and Sheridan Square (00 1 212 675 6879) and Smalls at 183 West 10th Street at Seventh Avenue (00 1 212 929 7565; www.fatcatjazz.com).

To get a glimpse of where jazz may be headed, try the adventurous Knitting Factory venue at 74 Leonard Street, between Broadway and Church Street (00 1 212 219 3006; www.knittingfactory.com).

True legends still lurk behind a saxophone. Most Mondays at 8.30pm you can catch Woody Allen and his jazz band at the Café in the Carlyle Hotel at Madison Avenue and 76th Street (00 1 212 570 7189; www.woodyallenband.com). Reservations are necessary and there is a cover charge of $85 (£47).

The best concert venues?

Madison Square Garden, at Seventh Avenue and 32nd Street (001 212 307 7171; www.thegarden.com) is top of the tree - The Rolling Stones, for example, appear here on 18 and 20 January. Tickets for the big-name events are tough to get unless you book early or take your chances with touts.

For classical performances, Carnegie Hall at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue (00 1 212 247 7800; www.carnegiehall.org) is the leading venue. It's actually three concert venues in one: the main Isaac Stern Auditorium, seating nearly 3,000, and two smaller halls.

The Lincoln Center at Broadway and 65th Street offers plenty of classical music. It is home to two opera companies: the Metropolitan (00 1 212 362 6000; www.metoperafamily.org), which has the grander, more classical repertoire; and the New York City Opera (00 1 212 721 6500; www.nycopera.com), specialising in more innovative, American works.

The Lincoln is also the place to hear the New York Philharmonic ( www.newyorkphilharmonic.org), which performs indoors for most of the year, but stages free picnic concerts in Central Park, and other parks, in summer.

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