Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Cellarful of (Wonderful) Noise

We simply don't have "locals" in the U.S. like the ones commonplace in Japan. Tokyo has perhaps ten times as many bars per capita as any city in the U.S. But the ones in that city tend to be a tenth the size of those in America, and so it all evens out, I suppose. Except for the fact that the Japanese tend to have a much more active public life and, I've no doubt, drink somewhat more than their U.S. counterparts. And, in fact, Tokyo is the only city I've ever been in where I've become certifiably, arrestably drunk in public. But that's a story best left for some other night around the campfire. We are gathered here today instead to talk about one bar and eating establishement in particular.

Cafe Albert in the Takadanobaba section of Tokyo is typical in it's intime dimensions, and also similar to many other of the city's such establishments in the warmth and friendliness displayed by it husband-and-wife proprietors, the Shiozawas. But "the Albert," as most of its habituees call it, has a highly specific theme that sets it apart. For it operates in memory of Frances ALBERT Sinatra, of whom the Shiozwas are devotees of the first rank. . .and why not? And most of its patrons are either fans of "Mister Sinatra," as many Japanese tend to call him, or at least the art of jazz singing. It's where, for instance, the members of the Tokyo Vocal Jazz Appreciation Society congregate after their monthly meeting, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the person seated next to me at the Albert bar---with room enough for only five or six---could recite Chris Connor LP catalogue numbers by heart.

One enters the Albert after a climb down a somewhat vertiginous stairway off of an alley, then enters the warm, cozy interior through an entrance with a "It's Sinatra's world, we just live in it" sign on the door. Once inside, there is often a Sinatra track playing on the sound system, or a video clip on the TV monitor, and the shelves and walls are jam packed with memorabilia, books, photos, etc. nearly all devoted to...if you guessed F.A.S., then you win the cigar.

But as has already been noted, the Albert is not ALL about Sinatra in particular but also jazz vocalizing in general. And it was in keeping with both traditions that, when singer Pinky Winters traveled to and performed in Japan last December, the Shiozawas invited her to appear at the Albert. ("In keeping with both traditions" because Winters is a major FS fan, counts him as an early singing inspiration, and even knew the man slightly.) Mind you, the place only holds a maximum of thirty customers and filled up can be a bit remindful of the state room scene in "Night at the Opera."

The other public and private gigs that Winters effected during her eleven-day Tokyo performance blitz were at much larger establishments, but I had been to the Albert for the first time my previous trip to Japan, and I strongly urged her to accept the invitation. . .despite the, um, well, extreme coziness of the spot. Too kewl to turn down. And so she did say "yes", and it turned out to be a great affair in every way imagineable. Including artistically, even though Pinky, due to a schedule mixup, had little time to rehearse, and with a pianist that she only had a chance to do not much more than shake hands with before they went on.

I think the wonderfulness of the occasion comes through loud and clear in a somewhat crude video I took of the performance. I think you can get a sense of just how terrific the evening turned out by taking a look at this brief clip of the event that I've just uploaded to youtube.

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