The jazz scene in Tokyo, Yokohama and the greater Kanto area is extensive, diverse and easily accessible..but can also be very pricey.
I’m often contacted by people looking for a “nice, authentic place, not too expensive. Any recommendations?” Depending on the kind of music they are looking for I’ll tell them about one place or another, often to get back a reply expressing surprise at how much it ended up costing. Entry fees, drinks, and maybe a little food can quickly add up to about ￥10,000 per person, a hefty charge for what may be a just an average live gig. Head to one of the major clubs like the Blue Note or the Cotton Club and the bill will go a lot higher than that for most nights, quite the hand out.
The increasing number of combined indoor and outdoor jazz festivals throughout the year are the solution for students on a tight budget or those unwilling to use most of their pocket money on a night out listening to jazz. Throughout the year there are numerous one, two, and three days or more festivals with plentiful live stages offering quality music. The Kunitachi Power and Sengawa Arts festivals cater to those with more experimental tastes, while the Sumida and Ikebukuro festivals offer a mixture of straight ahead styles with some funk and big-band groups thrown in. Last year I even went to a fairly new weekend event at Hikawa Shinja in Numabukuro, the Nuno Jazz Festa. Standing in the grounds of a Japanese shrine, drinking a cold beer and listening to a shimmering vibraphone solo is an extraordinarily cool jazz moment.
October brings two of the year’s best jazz events in the Yokohama Jazz Promenade (October 6th & 7th) and the Asagaya Jazz Street Festival. (October 26th & 27th). This is the 20th Yokohama Jazz Promenade with a packed schedule of events all around the port city. There are outdoor stages, small club gigs, and larger band events at various venues, and you will even run into some small groups playing in the train stations as you arrive. Yokohama has a long jazz history and the Promenade is a good chance to walk around the city, enter various venues and soak up the ambiance. I especially recommend a walk through the historical Kannai and Noge neighborhoods as they both are packed with tiny music joints, eateries and bars. Airegin and Down Beat in Kannai are two of the oldest jazz spots in Yokohama and are personal favorites of mine.
￥7500 gets you a two-day pass that allows entry into any hall or club listed on the schedule, a real bargain for two days worth of music. Read more in English about the Yokohama Promenade here: http://jazzpro.jp/en.php
The 18th Asagaya Jazz St Festival is October 26th/27th and looks to be the busiest yet. Asagaya, located on the Chuo/Sobu line about 12 minutes from Shinjuku, is a well known area for Tokyo jazz heads. There are numerous cafes, bars and live spots with consistently good shows all year round, especially at the tiny Manhattan club. The Jazz St weekend is a highlight as the entire neighborhood seems to be involved; last year I caught a swinging trio in a really old ramen shop on a dusty side street. There’s also a church event, a live gig in a shrine, and several different outdoor stages on both sides of the station. Asagaya can be confusing at first but the organizers will be right at the station handing out maps and answering any questions. Be sure to stop by Cafe “Tom” while there as well, one of the nicer jazz cafes in town.