• Image about Tokyo


Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong would feel right at home in jazz-happy Tokyo, Japan.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY GEOFF JOHNSON

ON a cold, dark night in Tokyo, Japan, with a spitting rain threatening to become a steady downpour, I’m in a position familiar to many visitors (and residents, for that matter) to this sprawling megalopolis of 35 million: I’m lost. Clutching a series of increasingly damp maps that a concierge at the Peninsula Tokyo hotel assembled for me with Job-like patience, I wander a street (which, like so many others in Tokyo, seems neither to have a name or any numbers) in the Shinjuku neighborhood, searching for a small jazz club called Someday -- as in someday, I’ll find it. Maybe.

Then, I see it. A small sign, in English no less, tells me I’ve arrived. “We would appreciate it if you would refrain from excessive noise while ‘the band’ is playing. But by all means please enjoy the music and applaud when you feel like it,” it reads. Properly instructed on etiquette and eager to get out of the cold and wet, I descend the stairs to the basement club, ready to hear some good music. What I find when I enter is a smallish space that could easily pass for an American sports bar or perhaps even my uncle’s downstairs game room: Neon Budweiser signs decorate the walls, as do posters, including one of jazz legend Miles Davis, and rows of long tables are arrayed in front of a simple stage.

But once the music begins, any disappointment with the bland aesthetics disappears. On this night, a big band -- with 17 members, it’s so big that it takes up every last inch of the stage -- belts out classic jazz tunes along with an interesting rendition of John Lennon’s “Come Together” that shakes the room with sound and elicits silent smiles from the good-size weekday crowd, a mixture of middle-aged couples and older Japanese salary men in suits. In between songs, as is customary in Japan, the band leader tells long, evidently very funny stories (at least, judging by the tittering in the audience) and introduces each member of his troop. As one of his monologues ends and the music begins again, I ask a man sitting next to me what’s so funny, but he shushes me. Oh, right, the sign.