I first met Yoshida Koichi in the music bar Hawkwind. A shakuhachi player, he told me he plays in many styles, not just traditional, but jazz, folk, avant garde, new age, pretty much anything. In Hawkwind we were listening to some hip-hop. “How about this then?” I challenged him with a grin. And do you know, he stood up immediately, he played, and it was wonderful. I was very impressed (not least because he had obviously had a few). Koichi is still but a student of shakuhachi though, so he supports himself by working part-time at the jazz cafe, bar and diner Zac Baran. I decided to go and visit him there in the New Year.
Zac Baran, is listed in 新版 京都音楽空間 (Kyoto Music Spot Guide) as one of the “legendary places” of Kyoto. It first opened in 1977 during Kyoto’s jazz boom along with other great jazz cafes like Yamatoya and Lush Life. Zac Baran is not so strict about the jazz as those other locations though. In the entryway you will find a stash of over 2000 old vinyl records that includes blues and latin music and the current management are clearly not averse to a bit of rock guitar too. When I visited I found myself watching DVDs of The Police, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Nirvana on the big screen. Not what I was expecting! Among the succession of owners Zac Baran has had over the years, one was clearly a fan of the Freak Brothers as their images are all over the walls. I asked current owner Nakano Koji what kind of people come here now. “We get musicians, not so many salarymen… students from the nearby university… doctors and nurses from the nearby hospital…”
“And maybe a few patients too!” quipped regular customer Kikuchi Yousuke. He himself is a jazz pianist. “Why don’t Koichi and I play a little something for you?” he said and so they gave an impromptu performance which you can see at the end of this post. First here are some pictures to give you a flavour of the place:
The drinks menu here is reasonably priced. A draft beer will cost you ￥600. Spirits and cocktails cost between ￥600 – ￥750. They also have coffee and soft drinks. Food is cheap too and they have a big range of dishes to choose from (on an English menu!): pizza, curry, noodles, stir fries, quiche, etc. Live music events are frequent, and the space can be rented for parties. As for the atmosphere? It’s a dimly lit but friendly place in which to meet interesting and sometimes very talented people. Zac Baran means frank speech or straight talking, and that being its guiding principal, this is a place where you can relax and freely speak your mind.
Zac Baran is on the north side of Marutamachi a short walk east of Higashioji Dori. Here is a most convenient map. Open everyday 18:00 ~ 04:00.
Here’s that video for you: