• Image about Tokyo


By contrast, a place like New York City has so many musicians looking for work and fewer people who are willing to pay to listen to good music that the economics are decidedly grim for most jazz musicians there. Tourian, who lived and played in New York for several years, says that it was so competitive, even world-class musicians would take nonpaying gigs, called “begs.” “You play a set, and then you walk around the audience with a little basket, saying, ‘We’re working for tips tonight,’ “ he says. But in Tokyo, a combination of teaching, playing at clubs, and offering private performances -- mostly for corporate clients like Goldman Sachs, Halliburton, and, before they went under, Bear Stearns -- allows these expat musicians to earn a living. “Some of my friends back in the States look at my website or see my schedule, and they’re like, ‘Wow, man, you’re just playing the trumpet?’ “ Stalnaker says. “They’re musicians also, but now they’re selling real estate or putting new tires on cars. They think it’s like a fantasy.”

ON
my final night in Tokyo, I figure it’s time to eschew the allure of the many basement clubs and instead get a flavor of one of the more high-profile jazz venues Tokyo has to offer. It never occurs to me to ask for recommendations from the Peninsula hotel concierge, who never seems to tire of providing me with the kind of detailed directions only a child could screw up. Tonight, I head to the Cotton Club, which is in the Marunouchi neighborhood, just a short walk from the hotel.

The directions I receive -- left at Tiffany’s, after you pass Giorgio Armani -- are a pretty good indication of the difference between the Cotton Club and places like Sometime and Someday. For starters, the Cotton Club is actually located upstairs, not down, in a sleek glass office building. The waiting area is akin to what one might see at an opera house -- thick, dark curtains cover the walls, and a bartender serves Champagne and wine.

Inside, where the stage is located, is also upscale. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Seating is at tables arrayed in front of the stage, in large booths along a wall, and at long, elevated, and highly polished wooden tables. And unlike the subterranean clubs I’ve already visited, where the menu is greasy pizza and sausages, the Cotton Club has gourmet offerings. As I take spoonfuls of my lobster and ginkgo soup and wait for the performance to start, I scan the audience, which is as fancy as the surroundings: There are mostly young professionals, dressed in stylish leather jackets and Armani suits. Maybe jazz is being embraced by the well-to-do young denizens of Tokyo.

Well, not quite. As the music starts, it sounds nothing like the mellow piano, trumpet, and bass I heard at Sometime. Loud electric guitar? Quickly, and uncharacteristically, the crowd lets out a yelp when the band takes the stage. Young women hold up old records and shriek. It turns out, Tokyo has opportunities for nonjazz musicians as well: Ray Parker Jr. of Ghostbusters fame is the featured act tonight. I take a closer look at the schedule and see that Jefferson Starship will play here later in the month.

Oh well. It was worth making the trip just to see a great venue like the Cotton Club, even if I didn’t hear the music I was expecting. But if you want to hear only jazz, don’t be like me: Remember to check the schedule.