Tokyo expert on jazz, blues and soul serves cocktails and tunes
Blues music, born in America’s Deep South toward the end of the 19th century, began as unaccompanied vocal music and flourished into a fusion of folk music and spirituals.
Blues, which gave birth to jazz, rock ’n’ roll, rhythm and blues, soul and hip-hop, has become a driving force in today’s musical soundscape. Its DNA is apparent in nearly every widely celebrated genre of pop music.
Tokyo, widely known for its tendency to absorb cultures from lands far away and build communities around them, hasn’t treated the genre any differently. Blues clubs in Shinjuku are a dime a dozen, and heaps of blues-focused hideout bars have been popping up recently in trendy neighborhoods like Shimokitazawa.
One veteran blues bar stands out from the rest.
JBS, in Tokyo’s trendy Shibuya district, is home to nearly 12,000 vinyl records and cassettes that line the walls, all collected over the past 40 years by Kobayashi Kazuhiro, the bar’s owner and sole employee. Every record is catalogued by genre, artist and year, but Kobayashi has each one’s location memorized.
Where there aren’t records in the small shop, there are other things that make noise. A Mark Levinson preamplifier and a Japanese-made EX Pro tube amplifier are tied to Altec Lansing speakers from the 1960s, and a pair of Swiss-made Thorens TD-124 turntables provide the tunes.
A no-frills selection of whisky, gin, shochu and beer are always on hand, and freshly made tea and pour-over coffees are also available.
JBS — short for Jazz, Blues and Soul (with hip-hop in parenthesis per Kobayashi) — has maintained the same schedule in the 13 years it has been open. Kobayashi wakes up at 10 a.m., opens the bar at noon, and closes when the last customer is finished. This cycle goes on 364 days a year, with New Year’s serving as a maintenance day for his aging turntables.
Originally opened as an overflow area for his excess vinyl, JBS has become an extension of Kobayashi’s home, described as his second living room and less of a bar these days. JBS’ warm, intimate atmosphere has become a popular way for audiophiles and famous musicians to escape the digital buzz of pachinko machines.
Kobayashi’s music knowledge is nonpareil; regular guests often play a game where they select a hip-hop record from the shelves, and he will dig up the track’s sample from memory and play it afterward.
The cocktail menu includes few selections, and the mantra at the bar’s stainless steel tabletop is definitely utilitarian. With about 12 seats in the bar, JBS isn’t a place to bring a crowd. Individuals or pairs are best suited to visit if they want to enjoy the pop and hiss of vinyl records into the wee hours of the morning without a lot of company.
Drink prices just might make up for the sparse selection. Everything at the bar costs 500 yen (about $4.15), which is relatively cheap compared with other Tokyo bars.
To enjoy a nice, simple cocktail in the company of one of Tokyo’s premiere experts on jazz, blues and soul, there’s no better place than JBS.
Address: 1-17-10 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo, Japan
Hours: Open noon until the last customer is finished. Closed New Year’s Day.
Prices: Drinks cost 500 yen.
Photo: JBS, in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district, is home to nearly 12,000 vinyl records and cassettes that line the walls, all collected over the past 40 years by Kobayashi Kazuhiro, the bar's owner and sole employee. Every record is catalogued by genre, artist and year, but Kobayashi has each record's location memorized. Eric Guzman/Stars and Stripes