Best jazz bars in Shanghai

Best jazz bars in Shanghai

Shanghai jazz diva Anne Evenou gives a virtual tour ahead of the JZ Music Festival

This year’s Shanghai JZ Music Festival runs from October 15-23, but jazz aficionados in the city can get their fix all year round at the venues listed below.

Your tour guide is Anne Evenou, doyenne of the local jazz scene, who arrived in Shanghai in 1998 and once stood in for James Brown at a New Year’s Eve concert in New York when the Godfather of Soul’s untimely demise made it impossible for him to perform.

Nobody knows the local jazz scene better than Evenou, who remains upbeat about Shanghai’s musical future, despite the fact that the best gigs are “often at shopping malls instead of concert halls.”

Best Shanghai Jazz bars -- JZ ClubJZ club's founder is also the brains behind Shanghai JZ Music Festival.JZ Club 

First and foremost is JZ Club, which is nestled in a tree-lined stretch of Fuxing Xi Lu in the heart of the former French Concession.

Evenou refers to JZ as “the jazz club in Shanghai” and applauds its efforts to showcase all styles of the genre, from Bebop to Latin to free jazz and everything in between.

There is a music school connected to the club, and a bar which serves great mojitos for anyone seeking less academic pursuits.

Don’t miss the “secret” roof terrace for a quiet natter.

JZ Club, 46 Fuxing Xi Lu, near Yongfu Lu 复兴西路46号, 近永福路, +86 21 6431 0269, 8:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m.,

Best Shanghai Jazz bars -- Cotton ClubCotton Club: Shanghai's smoky jazz bar in real sense.

Cotton Club

Just a brief swing down Fuxing Lu from JZ Club is Cotton Club, Shanghai’s first jazz bar in the “modern” era. Founder Matthew Harding is passionate about jazz and the blues.

Cotton Club was the site of some of Evenou’s first performances in Shanghai, and she will always treasure the memories there.

With cigarette bans spreading like wildfire, this might be one of the few places left in the world that lives up to proverbial “smoky jazz bar” reputation.

Cotton Club, 1416 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Fuxing Lu 淮海中路1416号, 近复兴路, + 86 21 6437 7110, Tuesday-Sunday 7 p.m.-2 a.m.,

Best Shanghai Jazz bars -- Fairmont Peace HotelPeace Hotel's elderly jazz band is a Shanghai music icon.Fairmont Peace Hotel

The reopened art deco hotel always reminds me of the opening scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” -- the “Anything Goes” number which results in an Old Shanghai-style gangland shoot-out.

A true student of Shanghai jazz history, Evenou mentions the original jazz band at the Peace Hotel in the 1920s were actually not Shanghainese -- they were teachers from the Wuhan Conservatory of Music.

Today’s version, members are mostly in their 60s, feels more commercially oriented and a touch Disney-fied, but Evenou points out that there are a lot of talented musicians there.

The Jazz Bar at Fairmont Peace Hotel, 1/F, 20 Nanjing Dong Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu 南京东路20号, 近中山东一路, + 86 21 6321 6888, 5:00 pm - 2:00 am; Elderly Jazz Band showtime: Tuesday-Saturday: 7 p.m.-9:45 p.m.; Sunday-Monday: 7 p.m.-1 a.m.,

Best Shanghai Jazz bars -- Brown SugarBrown Sugar stages a rotating cast of international guest performers.Brown Sugar

Taipei-based Brown Sugar has been blowing the doors off  Xintiandi for the past couple of years with its live acts.

Perhaps a stretch to call it a “jazz bar,” Evenou calls it an “rhythm and blues and hip-hop’’ venue; and whatever you call it, just be sure to bring your dancing shoes.

You can enjoy bottle service in the lounges upstairs or to the side of the stage, or watch the mixologists set the bar on fire during breaks in the musical action.

Brown Sugar, Bldg 15, Xintiandi North Block, Lane 181 Taicang Lu, near Huangpi Nan Lu 太仓路181弄新天地北里15号, 近黄陂南路, +86 21 5382 8998, 6 p.m.-2 a.m.,

Best Shanghai Jazz bars -- House of Blues and JazzFall back to the 1930s Shanghai at House of Blues and Jazz.

House of Blues and Jazz

In stark contrast to the foot-stomping action at Brown Sugar is the House of Blues and Jazz.

As Evenou tells it, proprietor Lin Dongfu (林栋甫) -- a much-admired Shanghai-born actor -- “loves blues and New Orleans,” so he pulls up a barstool and in his own words, “relaxes with a drink, perhaps a fine cigar … while listening to some of the best blues and jazz Shanghai offers.”

House of Blues and Jazz, 60 Fuzhou Lu, near the Bund 福州路60号, 近外滩, +86 21 6323 2779, 11 p.m.-3 a.m.,

Best Shanghai Jazz bars -- Glamour BarNot just for jazz, Glamour Bar is Shanghai expats' culture center.Glamour Bar

Not technically a jazz bar, but a real Shanghai cultural center and home to quarterly jazz performances from Evenou herself, Glamour Bar is a Shanghai institution and its location on the Bund makes it a must-visit.

Melbourne-born founder Michelle Garnaut has created a Shanghai institution and hosts regular cultural events aside from jazz performances.

“I love it, it feels just like home and everything from the top down is great -- the management, the staff, the service, even the sound equipment,’’ Evenou raves about the place.

Glamour Bar, 6/F, 20 Guangdong Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu 广东路20号, 近中山东一路, +86 21 6329 3751, 5 p.m.-later,

Best Shanghai Jazz bars -- CJWHead to CJW as your second stop on the Xintiandi Jazz tour.


At first glance, the oh-so-cleverly named CJW (Cigar Jazz Wine Bar) in Xintiandi bears all the hallmarks of a lame, watered-down expense account venue; except that Evenou assures me that it consistently stocks a great roster of talented musicians, many of whom make their Shanghai debuts at CJW.

Currently headlining is Avana, the “Georgia Peach,” from Atlanta.

Unit 4, Xintiandi South Block, 123 Xingye Lu, near Madang Lu 兴业路123弄新天地南里2号4单元, 近马当路, + 86 21 6385 6677, 11 a.m..-1:30 a.m.,

Best Shanghai Jazz bars -- Melting PotMelting Pot is popular with Shanghainese music lovers.

Melting Pot

Located next to the erstwhile bohemian enclave of Tianzifang on Taikang Lu, Melting Pot attracts performances from all over the map, in keeping with its name.

Evenou speaks highly of the management, the range of music, the amenities backstage (a happy performer is a good performer). Most of all, “I just love that the curtains wrap all around the stage, it’s such a nice touch,” says Evenou.

Melting Pot, 288 Taikang Lu, near Sinan Lu 泰康路288号, 近思南路, +86 21 6467 9900, +86 21 5465 8638, 1 p.m.-2 a.m., no website

John Coughlan is a California native, Irish national, and longtime resident of Shanghai’s former French Concession.

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