A particular framed picture, hanging on the dark-oak wall of the East Shore, is incongruous to the patron’s eye; odd among the requisite jazz-café standard of Chet Bakers and Miles Davises and BB Kings, it depicts a dozen Chinese musicians performing at a revolutionary concert, circa 1968.
Backed by an omnipresent, shiny-faced Mao portrait, the players – pored in ardent concentration over double basses, drums and trumpets – look to the curious viewer to be China’s first-ever jazz band. Personable Manager Tom Li indicates the bassist in the picture is the father of co-owner Liu Yuan; it would seem that a passion for music has long run in the family.
Liu, jazz-aficionado and one-time accompanist to Wynton Marsalis, is certainly no novice to the business of live venues. His previous venture, the City Café, was a thriving music hub for over a decade.
Opened in 2006, East Shore is the culmination of Yuan’s experience, combined with a long-term aspiration to provide the city with a jazz venue. According to Li, refinement of the duo’s combined business acumen has dictated the live schedule, which is largely determined with a view to providing a platform for Beijing musicians.
‘Most other similar venues are just interested in playing Western interpretations of this music style’, says Li. ‘We hope to support the local players'.
To a soundtrack of Etta James, the unmarred view of the lakes and lights of thriving Houhai below, patrons can appreciate the glassed-display of vintage instruments, lovingly collected by Liu, or sip on a cocktail from a conservatively chosen – yet classic – collection (35-45RMB). The latter half of the week has a schedule of jazz and swing, with the city’s best gracing the small stage.
In the cigar-tinged air, one can almost imagine being seated at the bar in decades-ago New Orleans, among ’30s bare-bulb lamps, dark-stained timber and art deco chandeliers. East Shore’s trump card, however, might well be the open rooftop.
Although only a small space, the view stretches – on a clear day – to the mountain range, far on the smoky horizon. The quietly confident Li proudly indicates the glittering lights spread out below, before showing a few departing patrons to the narrow staircase.
‘Please come again’, he says. ‘We welcome you to appreciate good music anytime’.