Shanghai’s Fairmont Peace Hotel has a very special Guinness World Record – the oldest Jazz band alive! This was a visit in December 2020, the first trip for me back to China since the beginning of the pandemic.
Nanjing Road is known as one of the busiest shopping streets in the world. Split into two sections, Nanjing Road East, and Nanjing Road West, this street is the perfect place to see how busy Shanghai can truly be, and shop for both modern delights and traditional Chinese treasures.
The word bund – from the Persian word band, through Hindustani – means “embankment”, “levee” or “dam” (a cognate of the English terms “bind”, “bond” and “band”, and the German word “Bund”). Mumbai’s Apollo Bunder and city names like Bandar Abbas and Banda Aceh share the same etymology. The various “bunds” in east Asia, may therefore be named after the bunds/levees in Baghdad along the Tigris, given by the immigrating Baghdadi Jews, like the prominent Baghdadi Sassoon family who settled their businesses in Shanghai, and other port cities in east Asia in the 19th century, and heavily built up their harbours. In these Chinese port cities, the English term came to mean, especially, the embanked quay along the shore. However, “The Bund“, without qualification to location, usually refers to this stretch of embanked riverfront in Shanghai.
To get Peace Hotel, you can either drive to the hotel directly along The Bund and stop in one of the alleys to walk to it. Or you have to walk to it from Nanjing East Road, which has been turned pedestrian since 2019.
Known as one of the oldest bars in Shanghai, the Peace Hotel Jazz Bar was a hard-drinking, hard partying venue back in the 1920s, when the house jazz band was the hottest thing in town. After a long period of closure and a retro-refit, it’s back to the way it was, though this time it draws more tourists and hotel-stayers than flappers and dapper gents.
The Fairmont Peace Hotel opened in 1920. If not for Chinese language held everywhere, you might thought you have landed in New York at the height of Art Decor chic. The history of the band actually dated back to the 1940s, when the famous jazz composer Li Jingguang wrote the classic song ‘Ye Lai Xiang’ (Evening Primrose) and asked Zhou Wanrong to help with the music production. That’s how the jazz band, the first in China, got started. Zhou still plays in the band occasionally as the trumpeter, the oldest at 99.
It is a smallish bar where a table is at a premium. If you are a guest of the hotel can skip any queue to get in. We had fun, an evening full of nostalgia. The old gentlemen tooted away from 6.30pm. They were replaced by other old gentlemen at 9pm.
A Chinese female singer in her 20s dressed in the style of the cabaret in the 20s, came on in the second set and sang Chinese songs from the 20s and 30s. She immediately brought down the average age of the band from 75 to much lower. The acoustics of the room was rather bad and boomy, so I suggest sitting on the side if you want to converse as well as listen.
The drinks and fruit platter were expensive, but you weren’t rushed through the drinks and food, and there’s no cover. But one was not expected to stop at one because part of the earnings of the band did come from the food and drinks taking for the evening.
This place is not for music appreciation. The performance was restless and out of tune, and the crowd was really touristy and moved in and out during performance. But you definitely need tom come here at least once if you visit Shanghai. However if you want proper jazz, there’s the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Shanghai just up the Nanjing East Road.
Visited in Dec 2020