Listening bars, cousins ​​of Japanese kissa jazz, are launching worldwide

Courtesy of Dan Wissinger
Dan Wissinger plays a record at Eavesdrop in New York.

Jazz kissa, or cafes with extensive collections of jazz records and high-end audio equipment to play them for customers, originated in Japan. Today, listening bars, influenced by kissa jazz culture, are opening up one after another overseas as warm places to listen to music.

Jazz bars and jazz cafes in the West usually offer live entertainment. This seems to have made the jazz kissa arrangement of quietly listening to records and CDs on high-end audio equipment in such establishments a novelty for people abroad. The lack of customer interaction has also been a draw for those still keen to get their music fix amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

respect for music

Jazz and funk records churn out high-end speaker tunes at the end of New York’s Eavesdrop listening bar. Customers look relaxed as they quietly listen to the music.

Dan Wissinger, one of the owners of the bar which opened in March, heard about kissa jazz on YouTube about five years ago and decided to open a bar himself. “I think what’s interesting is the respect for a record that I heard about, you know, happening in Japan,” said the 31-year-old, who came up with the idea of ​​leaving customers listen to, rather than dance to, innovative music.

It is believed that kissa jazz first appeared in Tokyo around 1929 and reached its peak in the 1960s and 1970s. At the time, it was still difficult to bring jazz musicians from the United States until in Japan, that’s why people started listening to jazz kissa records, or so they say. Subsequently, these establishments turned into listening bars that do not limit the genre of music played.

According to editor Katsumasa Kusunose, 63, who is familiar with the subject of listening bars, at least 50 such bars have opened in many Western and Asian countries over the past decade. The movement began around 2010, when foreign musicians touring Japan visited jazz and listening bars in the country and posted about them on social media. Jazz kissa in Japan is often operated more or less as a hobby by owners with no thought of gain, while there seems to be a tendency for their foreign counterparts to be larger, with a substantial sum of money invested in their interiors. and equipment.

“Vinyl records and vintage audio equipment are trending around the world. [Listening bars] are probably considered to have good market potential,” Kusunose said.

No pandemic threat

Even with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there has been no slowdown in the pace of bar openings overseas.

“Previously, customers who chatted in jazz kissa were reprimanded. Now people think that listening to music in silence is a safer option,” said listening bar producer Yusuke Fujita, 39.

In July last year, 41-year-old Laurin Joel Schafhausen opened owls bar, a listening bar, in Bielefeld, Germany. “The tap bar trend is part of the big global ‘slow food’ or ‘mindfulness’ movement,” he said. “We humans have to learn to do things slower, and a barbell, a jazz kissa, is a really good place to do things slow.”

Courtesy of Laurin Joel Schafhausen
A look inside the Owls Bar in Bielefeld, Germany.

Ada J. Kenney