Qilai Shen/In Pictures/Corbis
Hart Hagerty
August 20, 2014

During the 1920s and 1930s Shanghai witnessed a swinging jazz era. Considered the Hollywood of China at the time, Shanghai was the top destination for touring western jazz musicians to play, write, and record. The melting pot brought forth a hybrid form of music mixing the big band sounds popular in the U.S. with the folk melodies of China. This new breed of jazz especially came alive in Shanghai’s many “taxi dance halls,” where men purchased dance tickets from beautiful escorts.  While the taxi dance halls have vanished, a snapshot of this pivotal moment in Chinese social and political history can still be witnessed in Shanghai jazz clubs. The most authentic experience can be found at the jazz club in the immaculately restored Art Deco icon on the Bund, the Fairmont Peace Hotel. Meanwhile House of Blues of Jazz, JZ and CJW draw on the dark and smoky mood of the era, seducing guests with nightly performances, fine cigars and stiff drinks. Kicking things up a notch is the nightlife staple Cotton Club, whose house band plays bluesy rock to a lively crowd.

Cotton Club

Claiming to be Shanghai’s ‘first jazz bar in the modern era,’ Cotton Club has a bluesy, rough-and-tumble feel. This smoky, loud, and dark live music bar in the heart of the French Concession has been around for decades. The plush red decor looks like it hasn’t been updated since the doors first opened, but the crowd of regulars never seem to mind as they crowd around tables and listen to the house band rock out late into the night. 

JZ Club

JZ Club is Shanghai’s premier jazz club that showcases international and local musicians performing all styles of the genre from Bebop to Latin. The stylish club sets a dramatic mood with elegant decor and seductive red lighting. It is situated in a three-story lane house, with a quiet treetop terrace and second floor mezzanine overlooking the stage on the main floor. Nightly performances kick off at 9 p.m., but get there early to snag one of the high-top tables in front of the stage because it gets crowded.

Shanghai Jazz Bar at Fairmont Peace Hotel

The most famous jazz troupe in Shanghai can be found each night playing at the legendary Shanghai Jazz Bar in the iconic Fairmont Peace Hotel. The house Old Jazz Band is made up of charming elderly Chinese musicians, whose average age is 80. For decades these players have entertained audiences including U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. This is as authentic as it gets. 

House of Blues and Jazz

House of Blues and Jazz has bee rocking the Bund since 1995. Over the years, the popular venue has expanded and now includes a brasserie-style restaurant serving Italian dishes and imported steaks. House of Blues and Jazz brings in international acts ranging from upbeat bands to soothing guitar jazz soloists. Check the online schedule for performance listings.

CJW

Standing for Cigars, Jazz, and Wine, CJW has been a favorite spot for wealthy businessmen to loosen their ties and wind down with a fine smoke and stiff drink. The Xintiandi outpost is one of the longest-running jazz bars in Shanghai, having been open since 2002. In addition to jazz, CJW’s nightly musical performances feature soul, funk, and blues artists as well.

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