All That Jazzamatazz

Brian Covert takes a look at a few good spots to catch jazz in Osaka.

For jazz fans who want the best the music has to offer in Osaka, three live jazz clubs in the city come to mind as standing above all the rest.

These are small clubs where, in addition to the local talent, you may be lucky enough to catch — at little or no extra cost — some of the biggest names on the worldwide jazz scene when they drop in for a loose, good ol’ fashioned jam session.

One such place in the Sakai-suji Honmachi district is the “
Overseas” club, the owner of which is said to be a personal friend of piano virtuoso Tommy Flanagan. Tommy has played at Overseas often in the past and is known to drop by when in town. The rest of the time, Overseas features a wide range of up-and-coming talent making their own mark on the Kansai jazz scene.

“Don Shop” in Nishi Umeda, next to Sankei Hall, is another happenin’ place. It’s not uncommon for the big stars that play at the nearby Blue Note Osaka club to finish off the night by slipping into this little joint for an unplanned jam. The list of top names that play the Blue Note is legendary, so if would well be worth one’s while to take a chance on catching them over at Don Shop as well.

Last but not least is the “St. James” club in the Shinsaibashi area of Osaka’s Minami district.

St. James features nightly sets of various local-circuit musicians who back up the house pianist, Takehisa Tanaka, one of the Kansai’s most respected and most soulful jazz veterans.

Tanaka’s high-level connections in the jazz world seem unlimited and every once in a while, such friends as Herbie Hancock or Salena Jones make a surprise appearance at St. James after winding up their own shows around town.

One such event look place just recently when
Terence Blanchard, the young trumpet-playing protege of the late Art Blakey, brought his quintet to town. Blanchard, viewed as the next generation’s Miles Davis, recently wrote the score for the Spike Lee movie “Malcolm X” and performed it live in a “jazz suite” mode at the Club Quattro in Shinsaibashi.

After the evening’s set at the Quattro, Terence’s fiery, young backup band members dropped by St. James unannounced, and the cats literally rocked the house in a jam session that will no doubt earn a place in the club’s history.

For those of you interested in finding out more about Tanaka — the ever-smiling, always funky St. James pianist — he is to be a featured guest on the newest album by drummer Elvin Jones, “When I was at Aso Mountain” (Enya Records). Jones, the legendary back-beat man for the late John Coltrane, is married to a Japanese musician from Fukuoka, by the way: Keiko Jones, who also has become an integral part of Elvin’s ongoing work in the jazz field.

So whether you’re just chilling out to the local talent or getting an unexpected treat by the reigning masters of jazz, these three clubs in Osaka are sure to satisfy.