It is like descending into another world - a world of red light and loud jazz, a world of men absorbed in music, sitting in armchairs, facing large speakers.
It could be another time, rather than the early afternoon. It could be New York, in the sixties. I could be listening to the gentle tones of Bill Evans playing the piano.
Instead, I am in Jam Jams, a Jazz Café, in Kobe, Japan, and it is early afternoon.
A simple stroll down some stairs has taken me out of the busy city centre, into this dimly lit café.
My eyes begin to adjust to the room and my ears tune to the loud music.
A lady sits at the bar sipping coffee. She is reflective, thoughtful. Behind the bar, lined with colorful liquor bottles, are hundreds of neatly stacked records.
The barman is serving drinks, changing records on a state of the art turntable, keeping the mood like an exotic DJ.
A red guitar is mounted on the wall. I see French movie posters, brochures advertising jazz gigs, jazz records in picture frames.
I sit in a comfortable armchair and order a coffee and cake-set for 1000 yen – about $12 U.S.
Towards the front of the long room, beneath a poster of a cigar smoking Che Guevara, jazz is blaring from a huge speaker.
A sign near the bar directs customers to this area. It is called the ‘Listening Area. Several men are sitting- pensive, absorbed.
The speaker – a valve amplifier - is an exotic relic from the past. The odd crackles tell me that the sound is coming from a record. It is a warm sound, like that of a live band.
It feels late in the evening, though it is early afternoon.
I am sitting in one of Japan's many Jazz Cafes – a serious side to jazz listening in Japan– and an opportunity to hear extensive back catalogues of jazz CD s and records –an interesting cultural phenomenon!
These cafes have a sophisticated cultural history, according to Michael Molasky, history professor at the University of Minnesota. He spent a year visiting Japanese Jazz Cafes, and has written a Japanese text on Jazz Cafes -The Jazz Culture of Postwar Japan: Film, Literature, the Underground.
The first jazz cafes opened in the late 1920s and early 1930s, yet became even more popular during the occupation, when American culture swept Japan - servicemen introducing many locals to jazz records.
The cafes also had booms in the early 1950s and 1960s when the likes of modern jazz – and touring bands such as Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers- had very successful tours of Japan.
The cafes became sites for cultural and political alternativeness in the 1960s when civil rights and the Vietnam War were on the political agenda, and African American jazz became very popular.
There was also a deep influence when the aesthetics of the French New Wave – the Nouvelle Vague – swept through artistic and cinema circles around the globe.
The growth in improvised jazz, including a burgeoning local jazz scene, also saw interest grow in the late sixties.
I visit the Voice Café, also in Kobe. It is situated on the second floor of a railway station shopping arcade.
I sit at the bar and chat with the owner Mr. Morata Seiji. He serves coffee, changes CDs, or records, and chats with the customers.
Two ladies, one a regular from a nearby store, sit at the counter. Mr. Morata is a genuine enthusiast with thousands of jazz records – 'about 6000,' he states, "many by mail order."
In the corner of the L-shaped café a man sits in an armchair listening intently to the sound from a large Altec Lansing speaker. He is absorbed, alone. One senses that he doesn't want to be interrupted. Mr. Morata understands the protocols.
"There are a lot of professionals who come in here," says Mr. Morata. "doctors, psychiatrists, white-collar workers. Many of the men who come in are from high society."
"Jazz just caught on, after the war," he says. "It fits into a unique way of Japanese thinking – a type of mathematics. Jazz is heard by the brain, it is like an adventure. You build up expectations of what is coming next."
Mr. Morata's favorite players include Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones. He pulls out a folder and proudly shows me photos of people who have visited his home or café. He is proud of the time when Al Grey, the American trombonist, visited.
I am joined at the counter by a jazz pianist and composer Kazuki Iida. He comes into the café each week, enjoys the atmosphere and a chat. He draws on his cigarette – smoking is common in these jazz cafes – and informs me of major names in Japanese jazz. He has a weekly piano gig at a Kobe bar called Ellies. He incorporates traditional Japanese instruments, and taiko, with his piano playing.
Mr. Morada interrupts. He has put on a new CD. It is called Logue by Takayuki Yagi. "It has been produced by my son," Mr. Morada says, proudly.
Visit any of these cafes and you will soon find an enthusiast.
Jazz Cafes have an unusual image in Japan. For some people they are seen as places for isolated men, seedy places, sometimes in the red light district of the city.
According to E. Taylor Atkins in his book Blue Nippon- Authenticating Jazz in Japan, "jazz remains foreign to most Japanese, and thus the jazz community represents a bizarre alien (at best, hybrid) subculture virtually unintelligible to the masses."
lunes, marzo 30, 2009
jazz cafes japan, por Darren Davis
Me interesa Japón. Siempre lo ha hecho. Quizás porque veía demasiado anime cuando chamaquito. Esta obsesión me llevó a escuchar música japonesa. En una canción de j-pop, una tarde, me tropecé con una cita del libro "Woman in the Dunes" de Kobo Abe, y compré el libro, y leí el libro. De ahí en adelante continué siguiendo a Abe, y luego a Haruki Murakami, y luego a Banana Yoshimoto, y a Yukio Mishima, y etcétera, etcétera, etcétera.
Me gusta el jazz, también. Y por Haruki descubrí que en Japón el jazz es como una sub-cultura. Toda esta malparida introducción para poner esta crónica publicada hoy en el Seoul Times, escrita por el fotógrafo Darron Davis, y titulada Jazz Cafes Japan: