A couple of weeks ago, jazz singer Allison Adams Tucker invited me to Blue Note to see her live performance there. It was a great show but also an excellent opportunity to check out this legendary live music venue. I spoke to the current master Ohigashi-san. A mild-mannered chap, he goes by the nickname of Chooper-san (after blues musician Al Kooper), and is as Allison put it “a very cool cat”. Blue Note has been open for 47 years now and has seen a fair number of famous musicians walk through its doors, either to perform or to kick back after performing elsewhere. Many of Blue Note‘s prized vinyl records have been signed by these artists and among the pictures on the wall I spotted this one of Elvin Jones, (one of the great jazz drummers of the post-bop era) going wild on stage right here.
Another thing you can’t help but notice is the scary looking head on the door with the message in Kyoto dialect “mata, aimahyo” or “Let’s meet again”.
This symbol of Blue Note is actually the face of the lady who originally ran the bar but, said Chooper-san with a smile, somewhat “deformed”. Actually she looked like this:
Her name was Shishido-san, but she was nicknamed Oshishi and she was by all accounts a very charismatic lady. When she passed away some years back, there was talk of closing Blue Note down but Chooper-san thought this would be a shame and so he stepped up to keep the place going. One cannot help but be glad he did. There’s a real feeling of musical history here and really special atmosphere. After talking to Chooper-san, I got myself a beer (800 yen) and sat back to enjoy Allison and her band’s performance.
They started off with a few jazz standards and were pretty slick and smooth, but once they’d warmed up to each other and gotten comfortable with the venue, they really started to kick it. Phillip Strange‘s thumping piano seemed to inspire the others, sending the bassist and drummer into a trance and Allison looked like she was in bliss. When the first set finished they all looked pretty pleased with themselves and with each other. I spoke to pianist Phillip Strange and drummer Ryo Shibata between sets and they both spoke about how much they were enjoying playing in the small intimate space. When the audience is this close to the band, they told me, it’s good because you can really see how the band members communicate, interact and riff off of each other. Looking over Blue Note‘s impressive vinyl collection they spoke with fondness of the days in the 70’s and 80’s when jazz cafes like this were more common. These were the only places where young people could get to know the music, they said, so it was a tragedy that so many places dissappeared after the burst of the economic bubble. I felt fortunate to live in Kyoto, where we still have such cafes as Blue Note, and also Yamatoya, Lush Life and Zac Baran. Here’s a song from the second set, Allison covering UA‘s beautiful “Antonio no Uta”:
Blue Note‘s cafetime is from 12:00 – 19:00 on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays only. It is open as a bar from 19:00 – 2:00 every night. There is live music every Friday and Saturday and on other days irregularly. Please check the schedule for details. Blue Note is located on the south side of a little street between Kawaramachi and Kiyamachi just round the corner from and north of the Bal building. Here is a map. Because Blue Note has been open for almost a half century, you get a real mix of customers here, from old-timers in their 80s to university students. However, Chooper-san told me not so many foreigners come. It’s hard to understand why. I can really recommend taking a seat here at the keyboard counter, ordering yourself a drink, meeting new people and listening to some good old blues and jazz.
Many thanks to Allison and Chooper-san for a great night!