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Japanese Bar |© Torley/Flickr
Japanese Bar |© Torley/Flickr

The 5 Best Jazz Clubs And Bars In Tokyo

Picture of Jess Dawdy
Updated: 10 November 2016
It may come as a surprise to many that Japan loves jazz. The country’s unexpected relationship with soulful music dates back to the 1920s, when the genre was first introduced by Americans from the U.S.-occupied Philippines. Today, Tokyo is at the heart of Japan’s jazz scene, showcasing internationally renowned performers while fostering home-grown talent and a style of jazz that is uniquely its own. These are the five jazz clubs and venues you should visit while in Tokyo.

 

Japan |© Pixabay

Japan |© Pixabay

Cotton Club

Cotton Club takes its name from the iconic Harlem club that gained fame during the 1920s prohibition era. The original Cotton Club in New York once showcased some of America’s most legendary musicians, from Ella Fitzgerald to Duke Ellington. Opened in 2005, Tokyo’s Cotton Club aims to ‘bring back the glitter and sparkle’ of those nostalgic days. Located on the second floor of the TOKIA Tokyo building, this intimate and stylish venue attracts both local and international jazz musicians. Past performers have included R&B icon Ben E.King and singer Rita Coolidge, in addition to well-known Japanese artists such as saxophonist Itō Takeshi (T-SQUARE). Although jazz is Cotton Club’s primary focus, the venue often showcases a variety of other music genres, including soul, adult contemporary, Latin, and world music. Over the years, it has gained a loyal following of regulars, and its 180 seats are filled almost every night of the week. The club’s full fine-dining menu of French cuisine, excellent selection of beers, vodkas, whiskies, and champagnes, as well as a curated wine selection, only add to the elegant atmosphere.

Cotton Club, Tokia 2F, Tokyo Bldg, 2-7-3 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81-3-3215-1555

Cotton Club
© Cotton Club

Sometime

Opened in 1975, Sometime is set in Tokyo’s Kichijoji neighborhood, an area known for its jazz clubs and cafés, making Sometime a perfect place to begin or end an evening of hopping between various live jazz venues. The official name of the bar is Piano Hall Sometime, but this refers more to the style of the bar, rather than the type of music typically featured. Particularly popular with students and other young crowds, this eclectic basement club is decorated with antiques and quirky accessories. There’s no stage, so musicians just play in the center of the room and customers can watch from the bar or get an overhead view in the loft seating area. The performers are mainly emerging Japanese jazz artists, with genres ranging from traditional to avant-garde. Most evenings feature three sets in total, with performances beginning at 7 p.m., as well as a lunchtime session on Sunday afternoons.

Sometime, Ishikawa Bldg. B1F, 1-11-31 Kichijoji Honcho, Musashino-shi, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 42 221 6336

Blue Note

Tokyo’s Blue Note is part of a small franchise of jazz venues located across Asia, Europe, and the U.S. The original Blue Note opened in New York City in 1981, and continues to rank among the top jazz venues in the world. Blue Note in Tokyo, similarly, has drawn some of the globe’s most preeminent jazz musicians since its opening in 1988, consistently hosting sold-out performances and receiving rave revues by local and international media. Past performers have included singer-songwriter Natalie Cole, New Orleans legend Dr. John, and vibraphonist Milt Jackson, while jazz pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi has released multiple albums of her live performances at Blue Note, including Last Live in Blue Note Tokyo. The club is said to be among the most expensive jazz venues in Tokyo, but its high-caliber acts continue to attract locals and tourists alike. The cosy yet classy venue, which seats about 300 people, is decorated with dark woods, velvets, and pale blue accents. The drink menu offers beer, Japanese sake, whisky, champagne, and original cocktails, while the food is a mix of Japanese and European fare.

Blue Note, Raika Bldg., 6–3–16 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Aoyama, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 5485 0088

Sadao Watanabe |© srgpicker/Flickr

Sadao Watanabe |© srgpicker/Flickr

The Pit Inn

Open for more than 40 years, The Pit Inn is a Tokyo institution that presents talented local and international jazz performers. The focus is completely on jazz in this smoky, no-frills venue, with the chairs all facing towards the stage, a set-up that encourages customers to maintain their full attention on the music, rather than one another. This tiny concert hall-style club may not be ideal for lounging and chatting, but the sound system is excellent and the jazz is consistently some of Tokyo’s best. One of the city’s most well-known jazz venues, the performances are mostly mainstream jazz, with occasional avant-garde offerings. Regular performers include saxophonist Sadao Watanabe and pianist Yosuke Yamashita, but a number of international artists — including the Manhattan Jazz Quintet, Sun Ra Arkestra, and Elvin Jones — have also recorded live performance albums at the venue. Admission prices are affordable, particularly for the lunch-time jazz sessions, which feature performances by emerging musicians.

The Pit Inn, 2-12-4 Accord Bldg. B1, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 03 3354 2024

Jazz Spot Intro

Jazz Spot Intro is a relaxed jazz bar known for its Saturday night jam session, which typically runs well into the early hours of the following morning. Seasoned musicians and amateur jazz fans alike are encouraged to perform, with musicians often taking the opportunity to experiment on stage. The bar’s owner even occasionally takes the stage himself for an alto sax performance between serving drinks. A huge amount of the small bar’s floor space is dominated by a grand piano, and the mellow atmosphere encourages visitors to linger over their drinks for hours while enjoying the music. Aside from the famous Saturday jam session, the bar also typically features live performances on Mondays and Thursdays. On nights when there are no live performers, customers can make requests from the bar’s massive collection of more than 1,500 vinyl records and 1,000 CDs.

Jazz Spot Intro, B1 fl, NT Building, 2-14-8 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 3200 4396