Summer in the Kansai region of Japan is relentlessly hot with spirit crushing humidity, not ideal weather to enjoy all the historical sight seeing and hill walking on offer in the area. Thankfully, the joys of jazz cafe and bar culture are never affected by the extreme seasonal weather, so on my visit to Osaka this past August I ventured out one night in search of a couple of joints to spend the evening in. Osaka is generally easier to navigate than Tokyo but this time, after much wandering through the narrow side streets of the downtown Namba entertainment area, I had yet to find what I was looking for; the mythical “Jazz Building of Osaka”. Several people had spoken to me over the years of a building in Namba with a different music bar on each floor but always vaguely, with no solid names. I was about to give up when I turned the corner and saw this:
Jackpot, the Chuwa Dixie Bldg. Five floors with a different bar on each level: rock in the basement, light jazz BGM at the shot bar on the first floor, two proper (many vinyl records) jazz bars on the middle floors and a live bossa nova cafe/bar place on top. I was tempted by the stairs leading down to the rock bar but decided to skip it and the shot bar and went straight up to the 2nd floor Jazz Bar Top Rank.
Beautiful interior with a lot of knick-knacks and an interesting mix of classic jazz, old Japanese Pop and world grooves. This may be the only place you will ever drink that has posters of John Coltrane and AKB48 on the bathroom wall, with no ironic intent. I enjoyed having a drink in Top Rank but the owner has this odd policy of being fine with foreign customers, but only if they speak Japanese..I didn’t push him to elaborate on this. I’ve learned over the years that jazz bar owners often have their own quirky way of doing business and I was struggling with his thick Osaka accent anyways.
I moved upstairs to Jazz Bar Bird:
Master Nattori-san was instantly welcoming, but his Osaka dialect made the local cab drivers sound like NHK. It took extreme concentration to follow all he was saying as he and a regular customer at the bar talked to me at a mile-a-minute. They made fun of the downstairs guy and the went off on a long explanation of Osaka poetry styles and how they mesh with jazz. Still a bit unclear as to what it all meant but it was great fun listening to them riff on this subject. We killed a few beers together and finished up chatting about the Vietnamese and Cuban flags on the wall, merely souvenirs and not evidence of any Communist leanings, he assured me. Nattori-san has been running the Bird for more than 35 years and he rarely takes a day off, spending his days with his family and nights beind the bar, drinking, smoking and talking jazz. Maybe an unhealthy lifestyle for some but he looked a lot younger than many other 64-year olds. Hanging with Nattori-san was the most enjoyable night I had in Osaka, surpassing even the superlative okonomiyaki.
Yakata de Voce on the top floor were in the middle of a small live gig so I couldn’t get any video or interview time but it seemed a cozy place featuring real bossa nova and not the watered down classics you hear at a lot of live gigs in Japan. They often have cafe time in the afternoons and feature a solid collection of Brazilian jazz CDs on sales.
Next time I’m in town I hope to get there a bit earlier and hit every floor for a whole night of music and drinks. Will be sure to bring a local Kansai friend to smooth out my troubles with the dialect though!