Here’s a broad platter of jazz clubs that reflect Japan’s long love affair with a music that gave this island swing.
Founded in 1974, Body&Soul was one of the first clubs catering exclusively to jazz lovers. Throughout the years, the venue has become a mainstay of Tokyo’s jazz scene. They have live sessions every night. Musically, they’re usually in the range of jazz standards and familiar compositions. Soul has a welcoming vibe and for a Tokyo club, it is surprisingly spatial. Professional musicians from around the world stop by to pay homage, jam or feel at home. The cost of admission might be a bit steep if it wasn’t for the high quality of music, food and spirits.
Located in Akasaka, B Flat features overseas jazz bands and Tokyo’s best local talent. Varied styles of jazz, from popular hits to far-reaching soundscapes make for a well-rounded mix of jazz genres. This large club has an extensive food and drinks menu, enabling the audience to dine while enjoying the music. There’s comfortable individual seating and smoking is prohibited within the general area. Though the club has multiple evening shows, patrons are only charged a single entrance fee to enjoy all the live sets.
Though this Chiba kissaten (café) only holds about 20 people, it’s been one of Tokyo’s most cherished jazz spots for decades. Opened in 1976, Candy relocated in 2002 to a space with high ceilings and lots of sunlight. The venue’s decor is made up of memorabilia that acts as a monument to the music. One of the club’s walls is a massive vinyl collection of all jazz genres. Visitors are welcome to request any record off the shelf, a custom specific to Japan. Plus, there are live sessions on the weekends. American and European jazz players are familiar with this place, too. Most of Candy’s gigs are experimental and free jazz bands. It may be a reflection of the owner’s affection towards jazz great John Coltrane.
Within Ikebukuro’s notable jazz scene, Somethin’ Jazz (formerly known as Miles Café), showcases soul, funk and jazz. They’ve even expanded to having live hip-hop bands. Every night they have live jam sessions and their prices are reasonable. As a music enthusiast, Steve, the club’s owner, instructs music classes at the venue. It doesn’t matter the students’ ability or level of knowledge. The lessons promote the love of jazz and they keep the funk alive.
During the storm of Japan’s whirling obsession with jazz in the post-War era, Shinjuku’s Pit Inn was a haven for Japanese hipsters that dug the sound. Back then jazz was the hip-hop of its time, and still, revered as a form of high art. For over 50 years Pit has maintained its respected tunnel vision of jazz. Their food and drink menu is slim. All the seating is pointed toward the stage and the loud acoustics drown out small talk. For jazz fans, Pit requires a visit. They have afternoon and nightly sets that feature highly regarded local and foreign groups.
On packed nights, Kichijoji’s Sometime looks like an old monochrome photo of a jazz band lighting up a dive bar. The audience surrounds the musicians along with a grand piano. There is no stage, giving the club a cavernous ambiance and a dash of mystique. The place feels like a basement that houses the birth of musical inventions. Sometime, established in 1974, is a throwback to Japan’s mid-century golden era of jazz. The shows are cheap and there’s no additional fee to see all the venue’s evening shows. Food and drinks are also served.
Meg is a kissaten that hosts live jazz sessions at night. Upon entering the place, customers will immediately notice two bright red speakers that sandwich a piano. At moments, their precise sound almost simulates an actual band playing in person. Meg is a part of Kichijoji’s core jazz scene that also functions as a gathering place for budding players, jazz connoisseurs and singers. It’s a definite spot for people looking for an experience embedded within Tokyo’s musical heritage. The café has jazz vocal sessions and record trading events. Meg’s owner, Terashima Yasukuni, is a jazz aficionado and author of numerous books on the subject along with a series of curated jazz compilations.