Also, we're talking about grown up music -- jazz, funk, and blues. We're not discussing rock venues like Yuyintang, Mao Livehouse, or Inferno here.
The Music: Different band every night, so the style varies. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays you'll get more jazz, swing, and fusion. On Sunday nights they have local singers like Coco Zhao and Jasmine Chen. Fridays and Saturdays they have concerts, often with international acts like the recent show with Wayne Krantz. Expect a cover for those sometimes. Also, they do a jam session every Saturday from 2am–infinity.
The Drinks: The old fashioned was 80rmb. Fairly strong. Made with Jim Beam. Not bad, not outstanding.
Thoughts: JZ opened in 2004, and has since become the biggest brand in Shanghai jazz. They have several other venues, including JZ Latino, Wooden Box, and JZ Hangzhou, not to mention their annual JZ Festival, which hosts some truly world class acts like Bootsy Collins and Robert Glasper. For more about that, check out our interview with Ren Yuqing, the man behind JZ.
The bar certainly has a Shanghai feel to it. The place has three floors, and a severely underrated roof. Heard a story about a guy who passed out up there and had to climb down in the morning after someone locked the door. Crowd is heavily local but mixed up with some foreigners. Even with a maximum capacity of around 300 people, it can get really crowded and hard to get a table on the weekend, unless you come early. It's also open seven nights a week. As they cater to a rich Shanghainese crowd, this bar does feel a bit more pretentious, but the roof offers an escape from that.
A highlight of their year is during the JZ Festival, when international performers stop by the club after playing to thousands to do much more intimate and raucous after-parties.
The Music: More blues and soul focused. While the other three bars in this article rotate new bands and players in nightly / weekly / monthly, Cotton has a resident guitarist, Eddy, and bass player, Greg, the co-owner.
The Drinks: 60rmb for an old fashioned. Just alright taste.
Thoughts: Just around the corner from JZ, this place has been open for seventeen years. It was one of the first clubs after China re-opened to the world. Allegedly Cotton was there in some form before the Mao era as well. The place has low ceilings, giving it a different sound. A lot of musicians come here to record their CDs. Unpretentious. More like an American blues / jazz club. Packed on Fridays and Saturdays, but you should be able to get a table on the other nights. There's probably room for 100 people. They have a jam on Tuesdays. This club feels the realest to me. On a recent Sunday, someone requested Prince and the band killed it with an impromptu cover of "When Doves Cry", sung by Denise.
Also, sometimes musicians passing through town for big concerts will play surprise gigs here, like a few years back when some of Eric Clapton's band stopped in for a set.
The Music: This one deals in 1930s revival jazz. Lounge classics. People like Coco Zhao sing here often. On my visit, they just had a pianist, stand-up bass player, and a drummer, and they even dipped into a bit of free jazz on the intro of the last song.
The Drinks: An old fashioned with bourbon is 98rmb. If you want rye, add another ten kuai. So, not cheap, but strong -- and well-made. Some effort goes into the drinks here.
Thoughts: Heyday is the newest jazz club in Shanghai, and it does feel like a throwback to the 1930's. Silver and blue vibes. Place is intimate -- there is no stage. Definitely feels a bit flashier than the other spots, but you could still walk in wearing street clothes. Most of the time they'll play classic lounge tunes, so if you're looking for something a bit more accessible, this could be a good look. Also, the place is small. They can only seat about sixty people, so come early or make a reservation if you want a spot. Mixed crowd. Not bad.
The Music: Depends on the band, which rotates. When I went, they were playing '70s funk and soul, like covers of Otis Redding, Barry White, Jimi Hendrix, and Motown. Sugarpie Honeybunch...
The Drinks: A bit steep. This is The Bund, where even a pint of Tiger piss will cost you 70rmb. Old fashioned was 88rmb, and really just OK. Better than the whiskey sour, which tasted like straight sweet and sour mix without a hint of love.
Thoughts: This one also has a long history. They used to be on Maoming Lu back when that was the spot in the early '00s. Now they're on The Bund, so you're getting Bund prices and Bund characters, like tourists and business dudes trying to holler. Crowd is foreign heavy but fairly diverse in age and color. Some locals in the mix too.
The band the other night was wild, especially the singer, Carlton, a 55 year-old American dude. A true entertainer, he got the whole crowd to dance, made girls swoon, and even got a late 50s white dude who looked like Larry David to get on stage and sing backup vocals. He also brought one girl on stage, removed her jacket, then secretly stole her iPhone and went off on a rant like "Sometimes you get to meet pretty girls. Sometimes you get to take them home. Sometimes you steal their iPhones!" He picked up the guitarist and carried one of the staff across the room. The band was way on point too, with a really raw funk style. They played three sets and finished at 1.30am. Would come back for sure, but who knows will be playing next time.
This space is huge, with an upstairs and a random dining room that doesn't have any view of the stage. Could probably fit like 300 people in this joint.
Places We Left Out For Now, But Will Discuss Later...
Note: These places don't necessarily live music every night. We recommend calling ahead to check their schedule.
Chair Club: Blues bar in Pudong.
The Pearl: Old Hongkou theater that does everything from Frank Sinatra covers to magic shows.
Limbo: Sports bar / live music venue near Zhongshan Park that does a weekly hip hop jam called The Movement on Sundays.
Fennel Lounge: Zhongshan Park area Italian restaurant / occasional folk and jazz spot by the people behind Anar.
Time Passage: Low key spot on Huashan Lu that's been around since 1994. They often have jazz, blues, and rock on the weekends.
Wooden Box: Jing'an café that does soft folk and sometimes a bit of jazz.
Melting Pot: Tianzifang spot that used to be a destination for jazz, but less so nowadays. Sporadic shows.
Karma Lounge: Bar on Donghu Lu that has jam sessions sometimes.
Southern Belle: Sometimes this southern-American bar has bluegrass and folk bands, but not on the reg.
Coral Bar: A Japanese jazz bar in Gubei.
Peace Hotel: Been around since the start of time. Lot of jazz history here. Some old crocodiles still play jazz here sometimes.
Salmos: New-ish lounge in Jing'an that has jazz bands / singers sometimes.
There you go. Some spots around town playing real music. Shelter from the nnnnst nnnnnst...