Tokyo Jam Session Locations and Info
As of March 2018, this page is no longer being updated. As far as I know all of these places are still open (Oct. 2018), but good to double-check before heading out. Happy jamming!
Here’s a map (fullscreen version) of all the sessions I know of in Tokyo. Scroll down for more general and specific information.
Jam sessions – the lifeblood of jazz, the international language. Where musicians meet and new ideas are born. In theory, at least…
This page gives some info on various jam sessions in or near Tokyo – skip below to the map to check them out. Primarily this page is intended to help English-speaking jazz musicians find places to jam in Tokyo. Jam days are written here, but please always double-check the bar websites before heading out. Please feel free to email me if anything is out of date, or to say hi!
This is not a comprehensive list, and I just give some of my opinions on various jams. I’m more of a fusion player, so expect a bit of a bias for modern funk and groove stuff. Yokohama (south-west of Tokyo) has an excellent jazz scene and yearly festival, but currently I’m not including that information here. Another good resource for jams (only in Japanese) is Jazz.co.jp. You can see what jams are on for a given day in Tokyo. This is reasonably comprehensive for trad jazz, but there are still plenty of omissions, especially for other genres.
Most jams in Tokyo are very welcoming and run with musicians in mind – it’s much more of a community scene than London (where it’s all about money) and New York (where the level is pretty crazy high). There are lots of places where you can hang out and have lots of opportunities to play, though one “downside” is that even musicians are generally expected to pay a cover charge in the area of ¥1000-¥2000. At first this may seem unfair, but it has to be admitted that musicians are often the only customers for the bars, and this system seems to allow many bars to thrive (whereas in London, jazz bars are constantly closing down (or becoming commercial parodies of jazz bars (Ronnie Scott’s!))). On the plus side, if you get a gig, due to cover charges you will generally make a much more reasonable amount than you would in London.
A jazz bar/school with jams or lessons of various level all day, every day. B1 floor holds mostly trad jazz jams, while the B2 floor has a lot of R&B, funk, groove, and sometimes concerts. Cover charge includes free drinks! The B1 Saturday jam is somewhat higher level, and one can call just about anything from trad to modern, etc. The B2 jams tend to be run by young new musicians during the week, but depending on the host band there are some high-level jams, often at the weekend. (No Smoking)
Absolute Blue, Ikebukuro
Opened in 2015. Despite the location a little bit more upmarket; very nice interior and drinks. Frequent but irregular sessions – seem to generally be a bit higher-level, but still fun and a good variety of stuff. (No Smoking)
Golden Egg, Shinjuku
Probably the most central location possible for a jazz bar. Smoky crowded basement bar, very frequent and varying jam sessions; some particularly excellent host bands.
Jam Session, Okachimachi
Probably the most aptly-named bar on this page, and one of the few music bars in the north/west side of Tokyo. As of 2017, this bar has moved almost exclusively to doing simple rock and 12-bar-blues jams.
Ale House, Ikebukuro
Just a blues jam, every third Tuesday of the month. A British-style bar with a huge selection of good whiskey and ales (expect to pay Japanese import prices!). The info on jazz.co.jp is a little out of date, so trust their website.
Jazz Bird, Omotesando
Up-market traditional jazz bar in a trendy area. One Sunday jam a month, perhaps just a little expensive at ¥2500 (two drinks included). Theoretically there is a separate vocal session in the afternoon, but this seems to spill over into the rest of the night, and take up about half of the songs (other than vocalists, mostly trumpet players in attendance). The atmosphere is a little stuffy, but everybody there is quite friendly. And if (unlike me) you really have your chops in Trad jazz, probably a good place to play (or impress a date?). I wonder if my writing contains too many parentheses.
Cafe Dolce Vita, Okubo
Fairly spacious basement bar just north of Shinjuku. Weekly jazz jams on Monday, and funk etc. on Thursday. Website is incredibly 1990s-esque but if you can figure out how to read the schedule, definitely worth a visit. Depending on the host band which changes each week, levels seem to vary from beginner to advanced. (No Smoking)
One of the classic and most popular jazz bars, well over 40 years old. A great if very smoky little bar, with jams almost every day, and late jams on Fridays (to 3am) and Saturdays (to 5am). Often pro Japanese and foreign musicians tend to drop by the late night jams. A focus on trad jazz and standards, as you’d expect, though sometimes a little bit of modern jazz creeps in.
Elektric Jinja, Roppongi
I’ve heard this is where the top guys on tour tend to drop by these days, and the playing can be pretty cutting-edge, though haven’t spent much time there yet myself. Sessions are irregular and often don’t start until late at night. If you’re brave enough to face Roppongi at midnight, and wait for the early morning train, worth a look!
Very regular, incredibly funky funk jams. The sort of place where a one-chord-jam actually turns out really musical and funky, and many nights are dedicated to this kind of free jazz-funk. Some nights are more for actual tunes; even Fusion sessions where stuff like Weather Report might be called. Sessions tend to start a little later than advertised.
Tiny (cozy?) basement bar a little west of central Tokyo. It’s hard to find the information on the net, but there is at least a Jam every Sunday afternoon, 14:00 – 17:00, then again in the evening. All levels are welcome, ¥1000 entry.
Music Bar RPM (formerly “Colored Jam”), Shimo-Kitazawa
Fairly high-level “all-genre” frequent jam sessions, with a focus on funky stuff, with many great host bands playing almost every day. Great atmosphere, if a bit smoky, and very well-mixed gin and tonics.
Kikuna Live & Jam, Kikuna
Evening jams 365 days a year, halfway between Yokohama and Tokyo. A super relaxed and friendly atmosphere (and cheap beer) make this a great place to jam anytime, even for beginning musicians at a lower level. On the other hand, it’s quite far out of town (and maybe not the sort of place to impress a date, for example). All types of instrument are available to borrow, and during the day it’s possible to hire for rehearsal.
A nice traditional-jazz club with many afternoon and evening jams. Clean and modern, with food available. Mostly trumpet, sax (etc.) players in attendance. (No Smoking)
A small bar in Chiba-ken, with two jams a month – one traditional; and one “everything else” – free, fusion, funk etc. (which can be interesting!), with mostly guitarists in attendance. The owner is very knowledgeable about the scene, speaks English well, and has a very impressive collection of CDs and records.
Studio Wuu, Kashiwa
Very friendly guys and a large, nice bar. Every month there is a jazz jam, a funk jam, and a “right-brain” jam (the premise being I think, to get away from the standard blues-jam-session and play some stuff that doesn’t usually come up in jam sessions). The jazz jam is a bit too crowded but the other two are great fun. (No Smoking)
All of Me, Roppongi
A good example of one of many of Tokyo’s old-fashioned jazz clubs, with expensive drinks and a lot of old men in jackets singing standards from the 50s. They have free all-night sessions most days with a single host musician, so if you miss the last train, you can drop by and practice some trad jazz. I think the drumkit might only be set up on the Friday night session, which has an entry fee.
Some irregular jam sessions, depends very much on the day but there are some good ones. (No Smoking)
Sound Gallery Slope, Meguro
Nice clean little cafe, with a music school (or something like that?) in the basement, and some irregular but weekly-ish jazz or R&B jam sessions. Very cheap entry, drinks, and food.