Tokyo’s Bustling Jazz Scene

ByMichael Stigall
Oct 31, 2022

Tokyo’s Bustling Jazz Scene

Tokyo has had a bustling music scene for a long time now. Sure, most people think of the big J-Pop groups like AKB48 and Exile, but there is a venue for nearly every genre of music you imagine. Today though, let’s focus on Jazz. It’s not as well known as it should be, but Tokyo has a thriving jazz scene. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the best spots.

Cotton Club – Marunouchi

About a century ago, a legendary jazz club called the Cotton Club opened in Harlem, New York. This central Tokyo venue takes on the name as a homage. This new Cotton Club is known for bringing some of the biggest talents from around the world. Because of this, tickets can be upwards of 15,000 JPY for admission, which may be too expensive for some. Many performers here will play exclusively at this club when they come to town, so you may not have much choice if there is a performer you especially want to see. They have a great variety of performers, too, highlighting the many forms of Jazz, from the more traditional straight forms of Jazz to soul and funk to smooth Jazz. If that’s not enough praise, the acoustics and production values are superb, and there is an intimate vibe. The Cotton Club is a proper event venue. 

Blue Note – Aoyama

The largest jazz club in Tokyo comes second on the list. Blue Note is part of an international chain with prices to match its size. Like the Cotton Club, it attracts famous international performers and local artists.

Spectacle takes precedence at this venue, which is why it doesn’t take the top spot. For example, it is a popular place for salarymen to show off their cash rather than a place where hardcore jazz fans come together. They still bring in many of the big names, so it is well worth a visit. 

The Pit Inn – Shinjuku

The Pit Inn is truly your best bet for Tokyo Jazz. Running for more than a half-century, The Pit Inn is still going strong. The venue offers all the flavors of Jazz throughout the spectrum, from avant-garde forms to straight Jazz, and they keep the lineup varied. The atmosphere is reverential to the artists, making it reassuringly distant from the plushness of the city’s jazz behemoths, and at 3,000 JPY for most nights, it’s well worth a visit. 

Sometime – Kichijoji

Piano Hall Sometime (to give it its full name) is one of the most popular jazz clubs in an area of Tokyo that is well known for jazz clubs. Sometime was started in 1974 and showcased nightly acts from around 1,800 JPY, almost half of what you pay at most clubs in town, and nearly a 10th the cost of the heavy hitters Blue Note and Cotton Club. The club has a quirky vibe decorated with antiques and quirky accessories. The musicians play from the center, with listeners packed around and above them. While Jazz is the straighter variety emerging Japanese artists play, it sometimes shows some genuinely innovative acts.

Jazz Spot Intro – Shinjuku

As always, the last on the list is still worth a visit since it brings something new to the table. Intro has a fitting name since it has more of a  jazz workshop vibe. Suppose this sounds like your thing, head to Jazz Spot Intro in Shinjuku. There is no fixed lineup, but their Saturday jam sessions have become something of Tokyo legend. During these sessions,  Japanese and foreign musicians, from amateurs to professionals, show up to join the band. It is all held together by bar manager Inoue-san who acts as both band leader and bartender, serving your drinks between alto-sax solos. Around 1500 vinyl records and 1000 CDs are placed around the bar for the nights when there are no live acts.

World-Telegram staff photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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