Kyoto Jazz Club

Last May I travelled to Japan to participate in Professor Hosokawa's 'Otomimikai' (sound and listening research group) at Nichibunken, and as luck would have it, I was there at same time as Professor Merry I White from Boston University. Many know her work Coffee Life in Japan and Perfectly Japanese: Making Families in an Era of Upheaval (amongst other books), but some might not know that she is also an accomplished jazz singer. Years ago while doing research in Kyoto, she studied jazz with local musicians, and again, coincidentally during her visit, her old piano accompanist was performing at a jazz club, supporting their 'amateur' night. We went along to say hello to her old friend, but I learned a bit about the amateur jazz scene in Kyoto as well!

The spot was located centrally, in an upper story bar near the famous shopping area of Teramachi, and there was a cover charge and a drink minimum for entry, not unlike bars in the US. What was different about this night was anyone with an instrument could walk in and join the performance. The music focused on standard jazz classics ('Fly me to the Moon', for example) where instrumentalists followed each other in performing the main theme and then trading off improvised solos back and forth. The performers were all middle aged and older men (mostly Japanese, but there was one American!). They had more mundane day jobs (the American worked in import/export business) but at night they shed their daytime roles to play music together in an openly supportive, communal environment. It was wonderful to see how music (and the participatory nature of music making) transformed people's faces and bodies, even if just for a few songs.

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