Video Jazz Bar

I remember the first time I found my perfect bar. It was about fifteen years ago and I was wandering the streets of Shibuya alone, in search of company. Not necessarily sexual company either – the warm touch of a woman in a nearby Love Hotel would have been nice – but really, I just needed a place to be near others. I didn't care if I spoke to anyone. I just wanted to be in a room, with music and people and wine. If someone wanted to strike up a conversation, then fine. But it wasn’t important.

Eventually, not far from a huge DIY store called Tokyu Hands I found a place. The sign was what caught my attention, Video Jazz Bar it read, the word “jazz” leaping out at me. “A jazz dive will do just fine” I thought, and followed the arrow on the sign down an alley until I heard the faint, sweet sound of a tenor sax.

I opened the door and went in. An old Japanese man, several heads shorter than my 6 foot 3 greeted me at the counter. He was wearing a warm smile and a black beret. He ushered me to a table and set down a small bowl of spicy Japanese snack mix. Rice crackers and beer nuts with a kick. Then he brought me two menus. I opened the first, had a skim, and ordered a large glass of Australian Shiraz. As he went to fetch it I opened the second menu.

It was a bit like a Karaoke menu. Lists of musician’s names and the tunes they perform. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bird, Dizzy, Chet Baker – they were all in there and I was a bit puzzled as to what to do.

Until then the room had been pretty quiet. Just a touch of jazz playing in the background – the tenor sax that had lured me in. But as my glass of red arrived, one wall of the bar suddenly lit up and I realised it was a screen. In the reflected light I noticed a few other patrons. Old Japanese jazz dudes much like the host, and some younger cats. Goatees, a couple more berets and lots of smoking cigarettes smoldering before glasses of wine the same shade as mine. This was a jazz geek’s heaven, and as the screen flickered to life I realised that the menu was a list of live jazz performances recorded on video or laser disk.

On the screen the credits rolled and suddenly I was transported back in time watching Miles Davies play with John Coltrane. It was New York, April 2, 1959 and they were playing on The Sound of Miles Davis with host Robert Herridge, on CBS-TV. It was sensational. Low-fi virtual-reality lo-tech jazz style. I was swept away…

I sat thinking about what it must have been like to be there, but also how amazing it was to be here. The way technology and memory mingled, I felt I had found something intrinsically neo-Japanese. The kind of place that William Gibson might have invented had it not actually existed. A place where the futuristic aura of Tokyo entwind so beautifully with the past. Genius remembered, captured and worshiped on video.

After that first visit I went back several times, once with my sister when she came to visit, and maybe a few times with various dates I wanted to impress. But mostly I’d go alone and sit in the corner, watching the screen. It was like a time tunnel surrounded by old men and new acid jazz funksters like myself, sitting side by side, getting lost in the dark. Tuning out of the present into the past.

Recently I went looking for the Video Jazz Bar, and was pleased to see that at least the sign had survived, even though the bar itself vanished years ago. But these days the whole area is being redeveloped, as keeps happening in Tokyo, and today as I passed by again, I noticed that the sign had also gone.

I like to think that one day I will stumble upon the bar again someplace, that it has simply relocated. But I imagine it has gone forever. It’s a shame really, it was such a great idea, and so beautifully executed. A little like jazz.

Thankfully these days we have the web... so you can see the recording that so enthralled me all those years ago by following this link

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