Back to blog index

Shanghai’s Jazz Age Returns to The Peace Hotel

Step out of your taxi on East Nanjing Road, just before it meets the Bund. You glance across the river at the bright lights of Pudong’s skyscrapers and the futuristic Pearl Tower, blinking pink against the dark sky, and gather your coat about you as the cool evening air swirls around your legs. You turn back and step through the oak and glass revolving doors of The Peace Hotel, and back in time some eighty years. It’s Shanghai, 1933. Look up at the golden glass art deco atrium as you walk towards the Orchid Lounge. To your left, a pair of heavy, dark wooden doors are where you’re headed, although they have no sign or title, no window to give some clue of what lies beyond them. No sound even, escapes from the room within, but as the hostess swings one open, you hear the sound of jazz, pure and simple. 
You walk in, your eyes adjusting to the dim light of the dark wood panelled bar. The famous Peace Hotel Jazz Band is seated and playing ‘The Very Thought Of You’, as couples, elegantly dressed, dance on the parquet floor. Some of the band played together at The Peace Hotel in the good old days, before the Cultural Revolution put a pause in their playlist. What stories they would have to tell! Or perhaps they see it as having come full-circle – Shanghai is again in its heyday, and they, once again, are playing old standards like Night and Day, and That Old Devil Called Love, as the audience sip gin and tonics and smoke cigars.

The Fairmont Peace Hotel Jazz Bar
20 Nanjing East Rd, near the Bund
Ph +86 21 6321 6888
The Jazz Band play nightly from 7.30 – 10.15pm, followed at 10.30pm by Theo Croker.
Reservations suggested. 100 rmb minimum order applies.

Last Night of the Cangelosi Cards

Remember the fabulous New York jazz band I wrote about a few weeks ago? Those old-time jazz talents The Cangelosi Cards had their last gig at the House of Blues and Jazz last night before heading home to the US, and some night it was.

The house was packed with an eclectic mix of locals, travellers, musicians, jazz lovers and dancers. People from all over the world. If you have ever seen the film ‘The White Countess’, set in Shanghai bars in the 1930s, you’ll know what I’m talking about – Ralph Fiennes’ character strives for a bar with the right mix of cosmopolitan sophistication, politics, innuendo and danger. The House of Blues and Jazz has it all, although the only danger likely to befall you is that you will spend too much money on strange green drinks that will make you quite ill the next day……

Not long after arriving we met a Russian firecracker called Rowena who had stepped off a plane from Moscow not three hours ago, and was putting her own unique style of dance out there on the dance floor. It was really unique, with feet, arms and head apparently all dancing to different music genres, an amazing talent. Her feet thought they were doing classical ballet, her arms had touches of Bollywood, her hips were into swing, but her head seemed to have a life of its own and at random points she shook it wildly back and forth. Genre unknown.

The Cards played on regardless, and in a brilliant touch they had invited all the musicians who have played with them for the last three months along for the night – each took it in turns to play a number with the band, from the inspiring African singer who joined them for a languid ‘Summertime’ to a wickedly talented Chinese harmonica player who filled the room with energy. Everyone had a grand old time, and we all felt Shanghai to be the most wonderful place in the world. Thanks fellas, we’ll sure miss you.

Shanghai House of Blues and Jazz

The House of Blues and Jazz, on Fuzhou Lu just near the Bund, is a treasure for jazz-lovers. It’s Shanghai of the 1930s, like we all imagined it used to be, elegant, swinging, and happening, all at once. The intimate space has a mahogony bar, dark wood furniture and a smoky atmosphere, with the eclectic crowd arranged at small tables around the stage. The owner, Lin Dongfu, is the coolest cat in town and spends his evenings watching over proceedings from a quiet corner wearing a well-tailored suit and trilby (always a trilby) and smoking his pipe. 

Last night we caught The Cangelosi Cards for the third time, and they are seriously GOOD. This 5 part band play an intoxicating brand of old-time New Orleans Jazz, with the ethereal and completely unique vocals of Tamar Korn adding an edge to the smoky smooth harmonica and double bass. The Cards are from New York and will be playing every night except Monday until mid-June. Pull up a seat, tap your toes, order a martini and re-live the good times.