~Osusume Café Series~
written by Tamara Schoenberger
This week’s café review is for anyone who appreciates a hot coffee paired with some cool jazz.
Concert Café in Takasaki
I almost didn’t notice this café as I walked past. But from the inside, deep and earthy tones of a double bass found their way through seams and glass panes and leaked into the streets. The low, inviting rhythm caught my attention and I had to stop and listen.
By the entrance there is a menu board listing all the artists to play over during the current month. I was pretty excited at this point; I had been looking for a jazz bar ever since arriving in Gunma. And as I read, I started to hear and pick out the other instruments—a sultry saxophone, a smooth jazz guitar and a piano playfully striking improv notes.
Unfortunately the set was almost finished so I didn’t try out the café that night. So the following weekend I came back in order to catch a full performance.
When I looked into the windows the week before, it was brimming with swanky looking people. So I decided it would be best to show up a little early. The café opens from 6 PM for business and the live music begins at 7.
After walking inside I immediately was greeted by a staff member who remembered me looking at the board the weekend before. I was surprised and delighted by this.
The inside of the café has a cozy and charming ambience with low lighting and tea candles on every table. Black and white posters of the glowing, soft faces of 40s movie stars and singers greet guests. And the shop is lined with shelves holding old hardcovers and Parisian antiques and probably a few secrets too. A large brass tea kettle in the middle of the room is left to boil and I got lost watching the steam billow, creating heat spirals in the air.
There is a cover charge of 1000 yen but for three hours of live jazz music, this is a fair price. Along with the cover, I had to buy one drink and one food item.
Although a glass of dark red wine would have suited the mood very well, I had walked past a coffee pot near the entrance that already won me over with the smell. I chose a black drip coffee and a piece of blueberry cheesecake for the perfect bitter/sweet combination.
The café’s menu includes alcoholic options such as wine, beer, and whiskey as well as coffee, juice, and tea. If you’d like to have a full dinner at Concert Café, no problem–they offer pasta, sandwiches, and other French entrees to satiate your appetite.
Around 7 PM, the band began to set up. This night featured a trio of a jazz guitarist, a pianist and a double bassist. They began with Nat King Cole’s “Route 66” and the guitarist sang the accompanying vocals. With the emotion he channeled into the lyrics and how he wore a slight smile on his face, I wondered if maybe he had a personal connection with the area. The band played for another thirty minutes before taking a break.
To anyone reading this, this is not-so-breaking news; being a foreigner in Gunma can draw a lot of attention. Sometimes it’s pretty uncomfortable but tonight was one of the many times where I really appreciated it. The band came up to chat and after the usual icebreaker questions, I discovered the jazz guitarist had lived in Los Angeles for two years.
Our conversation finally led into jazz and we talked about the bossa nova Stan Getz, cool jazz’s Gerry Mulligan, and my personal favorite, jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. The pianist piped in that Chet Baker’s “Everything Happens to Me” was his go-to song during his time playing in jazz bars in New York City.
Having to go back on set soon, the band asked if there were any requests. They were happy to play for me: “Girl from Ipanema”, “My Funny Valentine” and of course, “Everything Happens to Me.”
Needless to say, two hours of jazz and coffee later, I left Concert Café absolutely content.
Concert Café is located at オフィスＭｏｍｏｓｅフランスRenjakuchō, in Takasaki, Gunma. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk from Takasaki Station. And if you’re having a difficult time finding it, just search for the FamilyMart Aru Cho location on Google Maps. It’s the building to the left.
Whether you are a hardcore jazz enthusiast or someone who appreciates some great live music and atmosphere, Concert Café is the perfect place to impress a date, gossip over wine or unwind after a week of hard ALT-ing. (And I highly recommend the blueberry cheesecake.)Foodie, Restaurants