Journeys to the bandstand

A book about jazz musicians in Vancouver by Chris Wong


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Life of Bruno – Bruno Hubert

Here’s an excerpt from a chapter in my forthcoming book, Journeys to the Bandstand — Jazz Musicians in Vancouver:

On a warm August night, Bruno Hubert is in classic form. Bruno sits behind the upright piano that’s next to a brick wall at the Libra Room, the restaurant on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive where he’s been ensconced for years. He’s hunched over with his head bowed near the keys. Perched on the piano is a wide piece of tattered paper with curious markings. It’s not sheet music, but it’s all about music. Written in different shades of felt marker are around 40 song titles, along with the names of two jazz artists and one classical composer. Some of the songs and artists have blue highlight on top, and some have solid or broken lines above, below, or beside them. He doesn’t look at the paper. Bruno’s concentration remains on the keyboard, where his fingers create beguiling sounds that are uniquely his.

Over the course of about 20 minutes, Bruno cycles through a dozen or so songs, playing their melodies beautifully and improvising gorgeous inflections. Among the tunes he explores: Keith Jarrett’s “The Windup,” Charlie’s Chaplin’s “Smile,” the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” and Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue No. 6 in D Minor”. In lesser hands, this song cycle would be a shmaltzy mess. Not with Bruno. There’s a carefully conceived aesthetic at play where he simultaneously interprets and creates anew. And please don’t call it a medley. It’s an organic flow. The renditions segue seamlessly into each other. The curious paper now makes sense. It’s both a road map and a treasure map that’s a reassuring guide for Bruno. When he completes his solo odyssey, there’s a smattering of applause, mainly from me and one other man — the only ones listening. The 10 or so other people in the restaurant are drinking, talking, and totally oblivious to the art that just transpired. He acknowledges the clapping by putting his hands together, prayer-like, in a sweet gesture that’s pure Bruno. Then he starts again on another solo flight.

Bruno_guide

Just over 24 hours later, Bruno is on another bandstand with his trio — bassist James Meger and drummer Joe Poole — at Vancouver’s main jazz joint: Frankie’s Jazz Club. Bruno doesn’t typically play gigs two nights in a row. In a perfect world, he would present his craft multiple times a week; in this imperfect world, Bruno performs for audiences here and there when opportunities arise. So for Bruno fans, it’s a lucky week. Tonight he’s wearing a black shirt, red pants, and a colourful novelty tie.

Brunoisms #1: Instead of following tie etiquette and having the narrow end of the tie almost the same length as the wide end, Bruno often asymmetrically keeps the tip of the narrow end not far below the Windsor knot.

He starts the set with “Fly Me to The Moon,” reshaping the familiar melody in dense chord clusters and mining far below the surface for harmonic insights in his solo. Next up: “Love For Sale,” with a robust “Night in Tunisia” intro. As the set proceeds, he plays “Take Five,” “Birdland,” “My Favourite Things,” “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” and other standards either in their entirety or as quotations within tunes. Just like in the solo setting at the Libra Room, Bruno’s interpretations uphold integrity and a cliché-free hipness. Those who know his approach would very likely identify his playing in a blindfold test — his musicality is that singular. Plus if you just say “Bruno” to anyone in Vancouver’s jazz scene, chances are the person will instantly conjure a mental image of the man, whose character can’t be properly distilled with prosaic words like “eccentric” or “unconventional.” Understanding Bruno’s persona requires peering into his creation story.

Bruno_Frankies

Bruno Hubert at Frankie’s Jazz Club. Photo: Vincent Lim

It all began for Bruno in a town in southwest Quebec at the confluence of the Désert and Gatineau rivers: Maniwaki. In 1925, Joseph-Olivier Hubert founded the J.O. Hubert general store in Maniwaki. J.O. Hubert evolved to become a modern department store and an institution in the town. Hubert’s 12 children, including his son Armand, worked in the store. Armand, who became one of the store’s owners, raised with his wife Bernadette a large family. The youngest of eight children, Bruno was born April 22, 1964.

In Maniwaki — population approximately 4,000 and a 100-minute drive north of Ottawa — Bruno grew up in a milieu of strong French, Irish, and Algonquin cultures. He played hockey with kids from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, an Algonquin First Nation reserve where future NHLer and Vancouver Canucks fan-favourite Gino Odjick was born. Bruno was a decent and somewhat tough hockey player who made the local all-star team. “I’m a defenceman, so the puck can go through me but not the man,” he said. “The man is going to go flying up in the air.”

One day, when Bruno was about 12, he was sick and stayed home from school. Because his parents were working and couldn’t look after him, he went to his brother Pierre’s apartment. Pierre had a powerful stereo system, including two gigantic speakers and a massive record collection. Bruno sat in a La-Z-Boy chair when Pierre cranked up the speakers as Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert played on the turntable. After ECM Records released the live recording of Jarrett’s bravura solo piano improvisations as a double vinyl album in 1975, it went on to become the best-selling solo album in jazz history. At the time, Bruno knew nothing about Jarrett, jazz, or piano (other than tinkling on the family upright at home), but he reacted viscerally. “This to me … it was a revelation,” said Bruno, who clearly remembered his response to the music: “My God, piano can actually sound like this?”

Though he wasn’t at all ready to act on the inspiration that Jarrett’s soaring improv gave him, Bruno was already devoted to music. His passion was being among the ranks of La Fanfare de Maniwaki, the town’s marching band. He initially played trumpet and trombone in the band, which had about 75 members, before earning a coveted spot on the drumline. Young Bruno played snare and bass drum in the band for about five years, and he was proud of his contributions to La Fanfare. But his path was far from set.

Fanfare_Manawaki

Bruno playing bass drum in La Fanfare de Manawaki.

The Incredible Escapades of Bruno #1: Aside from going to school (which he enjoyed), playing hockey, and drumming in the marching band, Bruno took part in the family tradition of hunting and fishing. He was in the forest with friends on a hunting expedition, armed with his father’s double-barrel shotgun, when the unthinkable happened as darkness was approaching: the 16-year-old tripped and accidentally shot himself in his stomach. One friend ran to the nearest phone to call an ambulance while the others carried Bruno out of the woods. He was taken by ambulance to the only hospital in Maniwaki, where surgery was performed on him. “I am very lucky to be alive,” said Bruno about surviving that horrific day. Although the surgery and post-op treatment were successful, there were limits to what the Maniwaki medical team could do. Bruno and his family were advised that there was essentially an expiry date on his treatment, and he would need to be re-checked and possibly operated on again later in life.

Bruno resumed his carefree life that increasingly focused on music. Within a year of the hunting accident, he became the drummer in Ad-lib, a rock band playing gigs in local venues. By the time he graduated from high school, Bruno envisioned pursuing a career as a professional drummer. But he wanted to study music first, so Bruno enrolled at Cégep de Sainte-Foy in Quebec City. Thus began his protracted trek through post-secondary music schools.

Like all drummers at the cégep, Bruno had to take piano. He soon realized that piano resonated with him more than drums and Bruno decided to switch instruments. As an inexperienced pianist, he wasn’t at the requisite level to enter the classical piano program. But Michel Franck, a pianist on the music faculty at Cégep de Sainte-Foy, agreed to teach Bruno privately and help him meet the standard. Another teacher at the cégep significant in Bruno’s musical development was Réjean Marois, a trombonist, guitarist, singer, and composer/arranger. There’s a group photo taken of the Cégep de Sainte-Foy stage band, directed by Marois, at the 1985 Canadian Stage Band Festival in Quebec City. Bruno is in the front row, with afro-like hair and wire-rimmed glasses, looking blissful with his life ahead of him. The following year, Marois took an ensemble including Bruno to Vancouver to compete at the same festival, which was held as part of Expo 86. The trip foreshadowed career and life directions for both Marois and Bruno.

Cegep_de_sainte_foy_stage_band

Cégep de Sainte-Foy stage band, with Bruno in the front row, third from right, and Réjean Marois in the middle row, far right.

Bruno did stints in university music programs in Quebec City and Montreal and met bassist André Lachance in 1988. They played together for the first time when Bruno was brought in to perform in the rhythm section of the vocal jazz choir at Lachance’s Quebec City high school. Lachance said Bruno was so busy as a musician that he needed two keyboard rigs to play gigs at different venues on the same day. “He was involved in many different things: a lot of jobbing stuff, a lot of casuals,” said Lachance. “It wasn’t all jazz. Over the years he has gradually dropped that whole jobbing thing and just worked on his own voice and his own sound, and he has been crafting that ever since.”

By 1988, Marois had moved across the country to teach at Capilano College in North Vancouver. Marois encouraged Bruno to apply there. He did and was accepted. Bruno thought Lachance should go too. All he had to do was convince both Lachance and the bassist’s mother that it would be wise to travel more than 5,000 kilometres to attend an English-speaking music school. “He came to dinner at my house and gave this whole speech on why we should go to Vancouver,” recalled Lachance. It worked. At the end of the summer of 1990, Bruno, Lachance, and three other friends moved to Vancouver. Bruno and Lachance becoming Cap music students, and then working musicians in their adopted west coast city, would greatly impact Vancouver’s jazz scene.

At Capilano College, Bruno studied with pianist Miles Black for five years, and that was an illuminating experience. Black plays gorgeous jazz piano and possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of standards. So he was an ideal mentor for Bruno. “He was definitely the one that opened all the doors for me,” said Bruno about how Black helped him unlock jazz harmony, interpreting standards, and much more. He also re-connected with Marois, who led the college’s Nitecap vocal ensemble that Bruno played with. Another influential Cap teacher was veteran pianist and tenor saxophonist Al Wold, who taught ensembles. “Al would say, ‘From one to 10, your playing is at 8, 8.5. Your reading is at two. You have some work to do there.’” This was part of a recurring theme in Bruno’s schooling. He was a quick learner on piano; Bruno’s playing far surpassed what his experience level suggested. Contributing to an ensemble’s sound, accentuating fellow players, and improvising are at the heart of jazz performance, and he excelled in these areas. But he struggled with sight reading and was befuddled by theory, composing, and arranging.

The Incredible Escapades of Bruno #2: Bruno’s father Armand was incredibly supportive of his son’s pursuit of music and helped him financially for years. After Armand died, when Bruno was struggling with a large student loan debt, he visited Quebec City and met with the Dean of Music at Université Laval. “At the end of our meeting he opened his chequebook and wrote me a cheque for a very significant amount of money,” recalled Bruno. “He just gave it to me. And he said, ‘Go back to Vancouver. I hope you’re going to graduate someday.’” Bruno was floored by the generosity and faith shown by the dean and told him straight up that he wouldn’t be able to repay him. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about this.’ This was a present to me to say, ‘Go and become a piano player.’”

After years of being away, Brad Turner returned to Metro Vancouver in 1992 with an impressive resumé. He left in 1985 to complete undergraduate and graduate music degrees, including a master’s from an institution with a lot of cachet in the jazz world: the University of North Texas. In addition to playing at a high level on three instruments, Turner showed a knack for arranging and composing. In other words, apart from both having big curly hair and a hunger for jazz, Turner and Bruno were polar opposites. Despite all of his schooling, Bruno hadn’t earned a single degree, and composing was his kryptonite. Yet after Turner started teaching at Capilano College and encountered Bruno, he heard something in the pianist. When Turner formed a quartet in 1993, he chose Bruno for the piano chair. It was an astute choice. Right from the band’s first recording, a four-song cassette, there was an unmistakeable chemistry between Turner, Bruno, Chris Nelson, and Dylan van der Schyff. That rapport deepened on the quartet’s full-length album debut, Long Story Short. Bruno contributed enormously to the group’s engagingly thought-provoking sound. Then Nelson left the band and Lachance replaced him. They didn’t know it at the time, but the Brad Turner Quartet was poised to go on a long and fulfilling run.

Bruno at 30 was making progress in his jazz vocation. He also had bigger ambitions. Bruno heard about the Great American Jazz Piano Competition that was part of the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. This was a prominent event — Marcus Roberts (who would go on to play with Wynton Marsalis before becoming a solo artist) won the first edition, and Harry Connick Jr. came in second. Bruno was among many pianists who auditioned for the 14th edition of the competition, and he was selected to be one of five finalists to perform in Jacksonville in November 1996. Each finalist had to play three tunes: one solo piece and two trio songs with upper-echelon players — drummer Danny Gottlieb (who was in the Pat Metheny Group) and bassist Jay Leonhart (who had played with Duke Ellington and many other well-known artists) — after a 20-minute rehearsal.

There’s a low-quality video on YouTube, taken from WJCT public TV, of Bruno’s 18-minute performance in the competition. A skinny and short-haired Bruno, in suit and tie, walked on to the Florida Theatre stage and absolutely nailed all three jazz standards with a stirring performance. Winning could have changed the course of his career, but that didn’t happen. He came in third, which was still an outstanding accomplishment. While the strong showing didn’t elevate Bruno’s status, it gave him affirmation of his personal conviction that he was on the right track. That fueled him moving forward.

The same year as the piano competition, Bruno applied for a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to study at the University of North Texas. Inspired by Turner, who spoke highly of his experience at UNT, Bruno wanted even more education. His application was successful, and he went to Denton, Texas in 1997 to work toward a degree. It’s hard to imagine Bruno, with all of his irregular traits, in conservative Texas. But he studied there with UNT piano guru Dan Haerle and other faculty for two years. Bruno fell short of getting a degree, once again, because he couldn’t pass the required arranging and composing classes. Plus, after his Canada Council funds ran out, staying in the expensive program was out of the question.

In the late ‘90s, when Bruno wasn’t in Texas, he gigged around Vancouver as much as he could. With the Brad Turner Quartet, his own trio, and other groups he played at the Blue Note, the Mojo Room, the Glass Slipper, the Purple Onion, and other long-gone venues. Cory Weeds’ opening of his Cellar jazz club in 2000 gave Vancouver players a desperately needed boost by providing a welcoming place where they could play and hang. Bruno was on the bandstand with Turner’s quartet and Seamus Blake September 28-29, 2000 for the club’s grand opening.

The Incredible Escapades of Bruno #3: The following didn’t happen to Bruno per se, but a tangential connection to fires that gutted jazz venues only adds to his legend.

The Glass Slipper, in East Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, was an important venue for creative music. Housed in a former church at 2714 Prince Edward, it was a thriving hub for jazz — from straight ahead to avant-garde — roots music, and more. On December 19, 1996, Eastwind — led by Henry Boudin and including Bruno — performed what would be the musician-run club’s last show. The next morning, at 11:37 am, 15 emergency units responded to a large fire at the Slipper. They couldn’t save the turn-of-the century building, or the musical instruments and other equipment valued at about $20,000 inside it. Losing the Glass Slipper devastated Vancouver musicians, including Bruno.

The Blue Note, at 2340 West Fourth in Kitsilano, was an upstairs restaurant that featured jazz in the late nineties. While it wasn’t beloved for paying less-than-generously (not unlike the Libra Room), the Blue Note was a dependable source of gigs for some. Bruno played at the restaurant’s previous location and performed regularly at the Blue Note on Fourth after it opened in 1996. On July 3, 1999, Bruno performed there with his trio. Just a few hours after his last set, at around 3 am, about 24 firefighters responded to a two-alarm blaze at the Blue Note that started in the rear stairwell and caused extensive damage to the interior. Bruno had borrowed Turner’s rare 54-key Rhodes electric piano, used it at the Blue Note on that fateful night, and left it there. “I went through the police tape a few days later to go in and get it, and it was sitting there,” said Turner. “It was like angels had guarded it. Everything around it was charred but it wasn’t burned.” Was Bruno a fiery bad luck charm or a bringer of good fortune because the precious Rhodes was spared? Only the jazz gods know.

Turner wasn’t thrilled that Bruno left his Rhodes at the Blue Note. But there were no hard feelings. There never are with Bruno because it’s impossible to stay miffed with him. As part of Turner’s quartet, Bruno played with the great saxophonist Joe Lovano in a September 2001 concert at Capilano College Performing Arts Theatre. “He played his ass off,” remembered Turner about Bruno’s performance and Lovano’s reaction. “That was an instance of, ‘Who the fuck is this guy? Where did this guy come from?’ Because he’s that unique.”

At one point Weeds gave Bruno and his trio a regular Sunday night gig at the Cellar. Weeds even sprung for an ad, featuring Bruno, appearing in 99 B-Line express buses that stopped near the club. “There was this picture of me at the Fender Rhodes, and it was all in blue,” said Bruno. “It was very well designed. A lot of times I would go to my gig on Sunday on the bus and find where the picture was, and I would just sit right under it. Eventually some people would be sitting and watching and go, ‘That guy looks awfully like the guy in the picture there.’ And then some people asked me, ‘Is that you?’” Quintessential Bruno.

Weeds, who has a propensity for thinking up ideas and acting quickly on them, suggested recording the Bruno Hubert Trio live at the Cellar for possible release. It happened January 13-14, 2002, with Bruno, Lachance on bass, and Turner on drums. The recording was much more than good enough for Weeds to release on his new Cellar Live label. Bruno’s playing those nights was a magical display of his interpretive artistry — the fruition of years of work to absorb the elements of jazz piano and develop his self-expression. Get Out of Town, the second release on Cellar Live, hits hard from the first notes on opening track “Cost of Living” by Don Grolnick. Bruno transforms the tune that Grolnick, Michael Brecker, and others played as a ballad. He starts alone with a vigorous left-hand pattern before Lachance and Turner join in at a brisk pulse. Bruno suffuses the melody and his improvising with kinetic soul. On that tune, and others like “Simone,” the title track, and “The Man I Love,” Bruno and the trio enter an enchanting and affecting realm. No wonder Get Out of Town was unexpectedly a strong selling album. (Quirky fact: it sold exceptionally well in Japan.)

“I think what we all try and do in this world of music is have a unique voice,” said Weeds. “So if that’s the criteria, he certainly reached the top of his game because you know Bruno the second you hear him, whether it is his touch or whether it is the lines he plays. Just listen to that first record. There’s nobody that really plays the piano like that. There are so many influences coming into play.” In his liner notes to Get Out of Town, Ross Taggart cited some of those influences: Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Cedar Walton, Kenny Drew, and Keith Jarrett. “He is, however, his own man musically and in turn has influenced countless players that have heard him,” wrote Taggart, a fellow gifted pianist.

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Bruno at Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club. Photo: Vincent Lim

Brunoisms #2: Since he was young, Bruno has worn glasses. “If I don’t have glasses on I feel totally naked.” For years, however, Bruno has worn just the frames with no lenses in them. The lack of lenses is primarily due to not having enough money to buy them, he explained, alarmingly. The result is blurry vision; he can’t recognize people across the street and can have trouble reading music. But, as with many other aspects of life, Bruno experiences this unlike most of us would. He believes that merely wearing frames helps each eye focus. “Just having a circle around your eye helps,” claimed Bruno. A number of people have offered to buy lenses for Bruno. Mike Allen did exactly that while on tour with Bruno because he was standing up behind the piano and leaning over so he could read Allen’s original music. (Those lenses are long gone.) I’ve come to the conclusion that he prefers to be lensless. “I started to appreciate the fact that [without working glasses] you can’t see that far,” said Bruno. “You’re just concerned about what you have around you, and everything else is kind of blurry. So then it doesn’t disturb you. If I’m performing, if I look around, I don’t see anything, I don’t see anybody. So it helps me focus on only what’s in front of me.” Which is the sublime music within him.

Brunoisms #3: “Even though he can’t really see, he has to have music on his piano stand,” explained Turner. “And not only that, he has to have the music but he folds the title over so he can’t see it, which he couldn’t see anyway because he can’t see. All these strange, idiosyncratic tendencies just developed over the years. And the beautiful thing is, maybe in a different scene, somebody who’s a unique personality like Bruno might possibly get marginalized a little bit because of his eccentricities. But not here. Bruno is a fixture.”

Thanks for reading this excerpt from one of more than 25 chapters in my book. If you have feedback, I would love to read it in a comment. Thanks also to Dave Ronald for transcribing interviews, David Ferman for editing, Vincent Lim for his photos, and Bruno for generously putting up with my incessant questions. If you’re interested in reading the rest of the chapter — chronicling his experience with Gino Vannelli, a piano tuning incident that ended in tears, the offbeat feature film on Bruno, his stellar performance on Brad Turner Quartet’s Jump Up, Bruno’s optimism about how his best is yet to come, the end of the Libra Room run, and how Bruno has survived the pandemic — and the other chapters, please look for my book when it’s out. 


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“How’s the book going?”

It’s the four-word question from family, friends, and acquaintances that I dread: “How’s the book going?” When I hear the question, I let it hang in the air for a second or two before responding with one of the following:

  • “Good.”
  • “It’s going well.”
  • “Really well.”
  • “Not bad.”
  • “So so.”
  • “Um, not great.”
  • “Pardon?”

It’s a loaded question for me that’s tough to answer because I’ve been working on this book about jazz for more than seven years, and it’s easily the hardest professional challenge I’ve ever faced in my life. At times I’ve felt like Sisyphus, rolling the mammoth boulder of the book up the hill and falling back to the bottom before ascending again. But I’ve never felt like giving up, and I am more optimistic than ever about completing the book after making changes in my working life that are enabling me to focus.

Sisyphus

It’s also been almost four years since I’ve written a post for this blog. Last week Cory Weeds, a central figure in my book, politely suggested that I revive the blog. He pointed out blogging could help me make more progress with the writing and create awareness about the book. What Cory said immediately made sense, so here I am.

What have I been doing on the book in the last four years?

I spent a lot of time thinking about and shifting the structure and focus of the book. The original idea was to write a history of the two Cellars – Vancouver’s original Cellar jazz club and Cory Weeds’ Cellar – and of two other jazz clubs that were housed in the same space as the original Cellar. I was going to write the clubs’ history and include sidebar chapters focusing on individual musicians who played in these iconic venues. At one point I realized the sidebars with the personal stories about musicians resonated the most with me. So I pivoted. The new plan was to have each chapter be a portrait of a musician, or a small group of linked musicians, who played in and/or had a managerial role with one or more of the clubs. While the portraits would incorporate history of the clubs, they would focus on each individual’s overall journey to the bandstand. Great, wonderful. I was ready to roll with the new plan.

Not so fast. I soon realized I needed more insight about the featured musicians. That meant more online and library research and, in a number of cases, re-interviewing them. Then, even though I had interviewed about 100 people, I determined that there were more people I needed to talk to. So the Interview Roll on the right side of this page grew. Among the musicians and others I connected or re-connected with in the last few years: Hugh Fraser, who I was fortunate to spend time with a number of months before he passed away; Campbell Ryga, who spoke with deep knowledge about six musicians featured in the book: Hugh Fraser, Bob Murphy, Ross Taggart, Dave Quarin, PJ Perry, and Cory Weeds; Amanda Tosoff, an uber-positive spirit who is doing great things as a pianist/composer and educator; Tim Williams, Collette Hackl, and Julie Brown, who helped me understand the complex character of singer/jazz club owner Ron Small; Brad Turner, who talked candidly about challenges and triumphs in his extraordinary career; Kate Hammett-Vaughan, who took me along on her jazz journey that began in earnest after hitchhiking from Nova Scotia to BC at 22; and Roy McCurdy, a gentle (off the bandstand) and fiery (behind the drum kit) 83-year-old who walked me through his path from almost becoming a lifer in a mind-numbing job at Rochester’s Eastman Kodak factory to being Cannonball Adderley’s longest tenured drummer.

Roy McCurdy

Roy McCurdy at Frankie’s Jazz Club. Photo: Vincent Lim

How have my book angels helped?

Doing interviews is the easy part. Then they need to be painstakingly transcribed. Fortunately, heaven-sent friends like Dave Ronald have generously volunteered to transcribe for me. Then I need to go through the lengthy transcriptions and find gems to include in chapters. Then there’s that thing this is all about: writing. I’ve made a lot of progress in that department, completing 22 first drafts of 27 planned chapters. Here’s where David Ferman, the book’s editor, comes in. He has started editing chapters, which is an involved task because the chapters are long, brimming with details, and in need of shaping. Sourcing photos, like the great one above taken by Vincent Lim, is still to come. Finally, Jocelyne Hamel has been coaching me on how to reframe limiting beliefs I’ve had with completing the book.

What’s coming up in the blog?

Now that I’ve revived the blog, I’m going to use it to share excerpts from chapters. I welcome your feedback, which I will consider in the editing process. Stay tuned for an excerpt.


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What’s Instagram got to do with George Coleman?

It sounds silly to say that social media prevented me from making progress on this book, but it’s true. A few years ago I became a huge Instagram aficionado. While I got a lot out of the photo and video sharing app/community, it also became a massive distraction that ate up much of the time I could have spent researching and writing about the two Cellars. In September 2016 I decided to walk away from Instagram – at least temporarily – so I could focus on the book. It’s helped enormously. I’ve achieved more on the book in the last three months than I have in the last year.

That said, it’s thanks to that social network that the book got another push. I’ve met Instagramers who have became warm friends, including Peter Boman. Peter is an excellent photographer, heartfelt writer, passionate slow living enthusiast, and devoted family man who resides on the West Coast of Sweden. When we virtually met in IG and Skype, we clicked on a number of levels, including musical ones. I got really excited in the fall when Peter and his wife (who is also an engaging writer) launched a sublime online magazine, Absintheminded Magazine. Then he asked if I would write a story on jazz for Vol. 2 of the magazine, and I quickly took him up on the offer.

It didn’t take long for me to decide that the piece would be on the great tenor saxophonist George Coleman. Witnessing a performance by George and three top Vancouver jazz musicians in April 2013 was a pivotal experience. I was so struck by the rapport that George had with the players even though there was no rehearsal or discussion of the tunes they played. So I’ve known for months that I want a scene from that magical night to be in the book. Many thanks to Absintheminded for giving me a space to write about what I saw and heard, which lays the groundwork for what will be in the book. Peter also took the wonderfully abstract New Orleans photos that illustrate the article.

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George Coleman with Miles Black, Jodi Proznick, and Jesse Cahill at Cory Weeds’ Cellar, April 5, 2013. Photo by Vincent Lim.


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Lessons learned in researching and writing about the two Cellars

I’m still here.

I started working on my book about the two Cellar jazz clubs on May 13, 2013. That’s when I did my first interview for the book, with Cory Weeds, owner of the second Cellar. Three and a half years later, I’m still at it. I’m still researching, interviewing, and yes, actually writing.

I thought I would be further along by this point, but life – and myself – got in the way. The good news is I’m more committed than ever to seeing this project through. I’ve also learned some lessons along the way that are helping me solve the many dilemmas that have emerged while working on this book. Here are some of the lessons learned:

Gone but not forgotten

Gary Cristall, someone else who has been working on a book for a long time (on the history of folk music in English Canada), gave me great advice when I started this book: that I should interview the old folks before it’s too late. I followed his advice initially and focused on interviewing a number of old-timers. But I let it slide and a few people I would have liked to have interviewed passed away. It was hard to see that happen, because of the loss of some great musicians, and also because their contributions and stories of their jazz lives may not have been properly documented.

At one point I started making an effort again to interview elders who played a role in the two Cellar jazz clubs. In some cases I interviewed people before they passed away, and I feel very fortunate to have met them (or at least spoken to them on the phone) and heard their stories. I’m thinking, for example, about the sublime pianist and organist Bob Murphy. I interviewed Bob in his studio about his entire career as a professional musician, which began at the age of 14 with a gig at the legendary Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret. He told me about playing late nights at Jazz Alley, which opened in 1968 in the same spot where the original Cellar was. He also recounted the thrill of being in the bands that opened for Herbie Hancock and Ornette Coleman in 1970 at a third club that was in that space, known as the Old Cellar. Hearing Ornette in the small club was like “getting it injected right into your core,” he said. Finally, he talked about the pleasure of playing at Cory Weeds’ Cellar over the years of that club’s existence, including his role in the very first Cellar Live recording: the Ross Taggart Quartet’s excellent album released in 2001, Thankfully. Check out the great playing, including Bob’s incendiary organ solo, on “Shorter Days” from that record:

A quote Bob gave me about the resilience of jazz through the generations has stayed with me: “One of the things that’s always knocked me out is every few years you turn around and there’s a new crop of young players coming up,” said Bob. “You can’t kill this music. It’s like morning glory. You can’t stamp it out. You can defund it, you can try and kill all the education and all that sort of stuff but it doesn’t matter. Kids keep coming out and want to play.”

Bob passed away far too young, at the age of 70, on October 22, 2015.

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Bob Murphy performing at Cory Weeds’ Cellar, September 30, 2011. Photo by Vincent Lim.

I’m also thinking about another fine pianist, Don Friedman. When Ornette Coleman performed at the original Cellar in 1957, he played with Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, Ben Tucker, and Friedman. Ornette’s engagement at the Cellar came at a pivotal time, not long before he recorded his debut album – Something Else!!! The Music of Ornette Coleman – for Contemporary. Don Friedman told me in a phone interview about how he listened for hours to Ornette teaching his tunes and ideas to Don Cherry during the days when they were in Vancouver. These songs and concepts were part of the foundation of Ornette’s pioneering development of free jazz. As a bonus, Don also talked about what it was like in 1959 to be on the bill with Ornette during the alto saxophonist’s historic engagement at the Five Spot in New York City that shocked the jazz world.

Don Friedman passed away on June 30, 2016.

Army of transcribers

It’s safe to say transcribing is the bane of my existence. I’ve interviewed more than 90 people for this book (see the growing list on the right side of this blog), and I recorded all of the interviews instead of taking notes. Each interview has lasted for an average of one hour. Some interviews went much longer. It takes four or more times the length of an interview to transcribe it. So I’ve been struggling with the enormous amount of time it takes to transcribe. Each person who agreed to be interviewed gave their time to me, so I feel like I need to thoroughly transcribe the interviews and find the best content that I can use in the book, which is part narrative, part oral history.

I was trying hard to figure out how to get out of this transcription jam when I started thinking about one of the parallels between the two Cellars. A community of musicians created and managed the original Cellar jazz club. While Cory Weeds was the driving force behind his Cellar, he also turned to the jazz community to help him get the club running. I decided to do something similar. I came up with this crazy concept of recruiting an “army of transcribers” – friends and family who can help me out by volunteering to do a transcription or two. I’m grateful that my longtime friend and fellow music lover David Ferman has become one of the main transcribers and advisors for the book. And I’m thankful that seven other people have joined the army. If you’re interested in helping, please let me know by leaving a comment on this post. The pay sucks but the benefits include learning about Vancouver jazz history first hand and providing invaluable help with this project.

Wild Goose Chases ‘R Us

The Internet is both a blessing and a curse for this book. It’s a blessing because of the incredible access it’s provided to information that I’ll use in this book. It’s a curse because it’s given me license to over-research and go on wild goose chases. One such WGC happened as a result of this blog. Someone left a comment on a post I wrote saying he had a large amount of material, purchased at an estate sale, which might have come from the original Cellar. It turned out the person who left the comment lives in Arkansas. After emailing back and forth he sent me photos of the material and I quickly realized it had absolutely nothing to do with the Cellar.

I recently had coffee with Nou Dadoun, who is one of the biggest boosters of Vancouver’s jazz scene, as evidenced by two related things he does on a weekly basis: host CFRO’s A-Trane (on 100.5 FM, Fridays, 2:30-5:30 pm) and compile the comprehensive A-Trane Calendar of jazz and other gigs. Nou gave me some simple and wise advice: just write. Despite still grappling with a mountain of interview transcriptions, I’m following his advice by winding down the research and curtailing trips down the rabbit hole so I can focus on writing.

It’s about the music and the musicians

I’ve had a lot of time to think about the focus of this book. Is it on the efforts of a ragtag group of Vancouver jazz musicians, alternative artists, and entrepreneurs to cooperatively create the original Cellar? Is it on how Cory Weeds kept his Cellar running for 13 years through perseverance and his uncanny ability to convince people to support and invest in the club? It’s about both of those things, and much more. Ultimately, however, it’s about the extraordinary music created in these clubs and the musicians’ stories – their journeys to the bandstand. I keep reminding myself about this when I go off on tangents or waste time on minutiae. The music is what inspired me to write this book, and it’s what the book will primarily look at. To keep that focus I listen to a lot of jazz, from each Cellar’s era and today’s era, on recordings and live.

So think of me researching, interviewing, transcribing, writing, analyzing, obsessing, and listening to enduring and impactful jazz.


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Jazz in the basement

One thing I’m trying to accomplish with my book on the two Cellars is give insights about what inspired the key players to establish and run these clubs. After all, the economics of running a jazz club have always been challenging. They also had to deal with the ongoing headaches of running a jazz joint – unsympathetic landlords, city inspectors and their myriad rules, difficult patrons, the politics of the jazz community when giving a gig to one person over another, floods, and other problems/acts of God.

All of this came to mind a few weeks ago when my son Miles, a drummer and student in the Capilano University jazz program, presented some shows at the beginning of the summer. Like any young jazz musician, he just wants a place where he and his fellow musicians can play. A number of full and part-time jazz venues, including Cory Weeds’ Cellar, closed this year. So Miles took the initiative and organized some gigs – in our basement.

The concept behind the “Basement Series” was to put on shows where Miles could play with different sets of musicians in a relaxed setting. He asked me and my wife for permission to put on the shows, and we were typical parents at first, thinking of all the things that could go wrong and imposing various conditions. But we gave him our blessing, and I actually liked the idea. Jazz and basements go together, as they did at the two Cellars, and still do at the Village Vanguard, Smalls, and other subterranean venues around the world. I was fine with having that tradition continue in our little basement.

The first show, with musicians he knew from studying at Humber College, went well. The music was good and a fair number of people showed up. The second show was scheduled less than a week after the first one, and it was a bigger deal. Miles landed two jazz festival gigs playing with a group led by his friend Quincy, who studies at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, one of the world’s top jazz programs. The quintet also included three other New School students, and they were all strong players. The basement show was an opportunity to get in an extra gig for the group, which showed a lot of chemistry despite having only one rehearsal, also held in my basement.

Here’s the quintet performing Harold Mabern’s “The Beehive” at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church:

Fifteen minutes into the well-attended basement gig, which began at 8 pm, the trouble began. My next door neighbour stormed over to complain about the music and ask for it to stop. I tried to reason with him, explaining that these are good kids who just have a passion for playing jazz. That made no difference to him. All he heard was noise. We negotiated a deal to allow the musicians to finish the set by 9 pm. Just before the last tune, I broke it to the players and the audience that the show was getting shut down. No one was happy, but they went ahead and did “The Beehive” with extra intensity and volume, maybe to stick it to the neighbour.

We were probably naive about being able to pull off live music in a residential neighbourhood, but the whole experience still depressed me. I was upset about the lack of venues where young jazz musicians – or any jazz musicians for that matter – can play in Vancouver. And I was despondent about the cultural gulf between those who need to play, listen to, and present jazz as a life essential, and those who have zero appreciation for the years of study and commitment needed to play this music at a high level.

The two Cellars didn’t have to deal with noise complaints. They did, however, have to contend with the larger issue of jazz being on the margins of mainstream culture and commerce. While that reality helped fuel the music’s creativity, it posed economic and other challenges, which contributed to their closures. But the founders of the clubs knew that reality going in and still went ahead. Why? Because of that notion of jazz as a life essential, something you can’t live without or even have any choice about once you’re possessed by the music. I’ll explore that motivation deeper as I continue to research and write about the two Cellars.


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Ghosts in the Cellar

I drive by it probably once a week. Whenever I do, I glance over to check that it’s all still there. I’m talking about the building that housed Vancouver’s original Cellar jazz club. By some miracle, the building where the Cellar closed more than 50 years ago still stands. It has survived years of neglect and a huge fire on Christmas morning in 2009 that engulfed the block on Broadway between Kingsway and a semi-obscure, alley-like street called Watson.

The official address of the Cellar was 222 East Broadway but the entrance was at the rear, off Watson. The first time I went to take a closer look at the building, I was with a Vancouver jazz institution: saxophonist, radio DJ, and raconteur Gavin Walker. Gavin was 15, freshly arrived in the city from Montreal, when he first stepped foot in the Cellar in 1957. He became a regular at the club, where he heard Vancouver jazzmen like Al Neil, John Dawe, Jimmy Johnson, and Bill Boyle, and visiting icons including Charles Mingus.

The day we went there, we looked in the window, but that was as close as we could get. I wanted to get closer. So I Googled the massive development plans proposed for the site by its owner, Rize Alliance. It turned out that a friend is involved in the project, and through him, Rize agreed to let me have a look at the space that was the place to hear live jazz in Vancouver during the late fifties and early sixties.

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The Cellar door

I invited some folks to join me: Gavin; Jim Carney who was a trumpeter connected to the Cellar scene and CBC producer who filmed at the club; and artist Michael de Courcy, who has created an installation on the Cellar (and brought along his jazz pianist son). With two senior Rize staff and my friend who arranged the visit, we all cautiously made our way down the unstable stairs to the place that was the Cellar.

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Gavin Walker & Jim Carney in the Cellar

What did we see down there? Piles of junk, and not many traces of what it was like in its prime as a jazz club. But the overall layout was essentially the same as it was, including the bandstand in the corner. And while walking around in the narrow space and taking photos, I could imagine. That’s where the person at the door checked your membership card. That’s the bandstand where Neil and other local musicians backed up Art Pepper and other visiting musicians, and played many sessions on their own late into the night. That’s where Paul Bley, Ornette Coleman, and Don Cherry played. That’s where Mingus aggressively confronted some BC Lions football players for talking loudly during his set. That’s where Ernestine Anderson sang. And that’s where patrons, dressed in their sharp suits, listened intently to the music.

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The author/blogger inside the Cellar

After we went back up the stairs and one of the Rize guys locked up, I thought a lot about what I had experienced. I didn’t really see much, but I felt a presence. Jazz ghosts? Not exactly. Just mental images of what it was like in one of the most important jazz clubs in the city and on the west coast.

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Looking up the stairs that Charles Mingus, Art Pepper, Ornette Coleman, Harold Land, Don Thompson, PJ Perry, and other jazz icons walked up and down.


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Jon (not John) Mayer: unsung jazz piano hero

Most of the interviews I’ve done for my book on the two Cellars have been fairly long, clocking in at about an hour each. My interview with pianist Jon Mayer lasted exactly six minutes and nine seconds. The only opportunity to interview him when he was in town a month ago was during a short break between sets at a house concert he played with Cory Weeds. Despite the brevity, Mayer said a lot without using many words, which is consistent with his engaging piano style.

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Jon Mayer, performing at Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club. Photo by Steve Mynett.

Mayer was born in 1938 in New York City and played in the city’s jazz scene with musicians such as trumpeter Kenny Dorham, clarinetist Tony Scott, and drummer Pete LaRoca. Mayer recorded with John Coltrane and Jackie McLean. He had a 13-year “Rip Van Winkle” period of inactivity – from the late seventies to 1991 – when he rarely performed. After emerging from the silence, in 1993 Mayer recorded his debut album as a leader, Round Up The Usual Suspects, with Ron Carter and Billy Higgins.

Based in Los Angeles, Mayer is not an especially well-known jazz artist. When you Google him the first result is the Wikipedia page for that pop star named John Mayer. I can see how brand confusion could be a problem. But this Mayer’s music is all about clarity. He plays with a light touch, subtle yet deep harmonic insight, and centered pulse. Mayer exemplifies the kind of unsung jazz hero that Weeds has consistently brought to the Cellar the past 13 years.

That word “hero” came up in the 6:09 interview with Mayer when I asked him about Weeds. “I see him as a hero. A jazz hero,” says Mayer. In his eyes, Weeds is heroic because he’s “carrying the torch” for jazz. He goes on to say that Weeds is “a very unusual guy, but he has great forward movement.” Unusual? I’ve heard many descriptions of Weeds – visionary, hard-working, confident, determined, brash, conservative, opinionated – but not unusual. “Unusual in believing in this particular music, combined with his perseverance and industriousness,” explains Mayer.

While there’s a huge age gap between the 40-year-old Weeds and 75-year-old Mayer, at the house concert, they played two sets of mostly standards with a kindred and empathic rapport. Now that I think about it, “unusual” is an apt description of Weeds because he’s a relatively young man – boyish even – with an old soul.

Mayer has only played two engagements at the Cellar, but the club has made an impression on him. “It’s obviously a great club. It’s a real jazz club, like what I grew up with in New York. It’s a throwback to a time when the music was central, or more important than it is now.”

He took the news about the Cellar’s upcoming closing hard. “Obviously I was shocked, upset, disappointed, all of that stuff,” says Mayer, who has seen a number of jazz clubs close in LA in recent years. “But I also know that’s how things go in life. I learned there’s always a beginning, a middle, and an end to people, places, and things. Clubs are born and clubs die. People are born and people die. It’s sad when it happens but I have faith in Cory. I think that he’s going to reinvent something.”


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Death of a jazz club

Just over a week has passed since Cory Weeds announced that his Cellar jazz club will stop operating at its current location by the end of next February. Now that I’ve had some time to absorb this sobering news, I can try to express what this means for Vancouver’s jazz scene and to my book about the two Cellars.

It’s been interesting to talk to people associated with the scene since Cory made the announcement. Many of them think he will come back strong with a new jazz club at some point in the future. Based on Cory’s 13-year track record of making exciting things happen at the Cellar, they have huge faith in him. Plus in the press release he issued to the media and the email he sent to musicians, Cory essentially said that he will be looking to re-open the Cellar.

But if you ask him, he’ll tell you that nothing is “imminent” as far as a new location for the Cellar. It’s also clear that Cory intends to take some time to explore his options, which may or may not include running a jazz club. So let’s call this exactly what it is: the death of a jazz club. The Cellar, with its particular sound and vibe, will be part of Vancouver jazz history. Regardless of whether Cory opens a new Cellar, the club he has run with such passion on West Broadway will cease to exist, and that’s a huge loss for the city’s jazz scene. Vancouver will – at least for awhile – be down to zero full-time jazz clubs, and that’s nothing less than depressing.

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I’ve done about eight interviews with Cory since May 2013. Throughout that time he’s talked with a lot of enthusiasm about the club’s history and future plans. He has also conveyed the stress of running a jazz joint: the lease and plumbing problems, the too-frequent nights when not enough patrons showed up, the challenge of trying to succeed at both presenting jazz and operating a restaurant, and the personal toll running the Cellar has taken on him. I wasn’t, therefore, entirely surprised when Cory told me about the momentous decision to close.

But I was still stunned, like many others here, across the country, and in New York (where many of the master musicians Cory has presented at the Cellar are based). My first thought about the impact of the decision on my book was, “Oh shit.” The concept of the book was to document and tell the story of one Cellar jazz club that existed in the past and another Cellar that’s a living entity. That concept is obviously in serious jeopardy. But it didn’t take me long to realize that it’s even more important now to write this book. Just like the original Cellar jazz club in Vancouver, which had a storied history, so much transcendent music and a strong sense of community have been created at Cory’s Cellar. All of that needs to be documented in words and photos before fading into memory. I have a front row seat at the Cellar bar for witnessing the club’s outro.

Plus the story’s not over. I have no doubt that if he wants to do it, Cory will find a way to resurrect the Cellar. Or if the club’s doors close permanently, he’ll make other opportunities that will involve presenting and playing jazz at a high level. Whatever happens, I will document it and tell the story in my book.


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Who am I and what do I know about jazz?

I was born in 1963, the year before the original Cellar closed.

I started piano lessons when I was in grade one, with a stern nun named Mona. The lessons were in the convent next to the East Vancouver Catholic School where I played hand cymbals in the band.

In grade five, at a public elementary school on Vancouver’s west side where my family had moved, I picked up the trumpet but soon had to switch to trombone because my embouchure was made for a larger mouthpiece.

I developed a love for jazz while playing trombone in my high school’s stage bands. We competed at festivals in Vancouver, New Westminster, Edmonton, and Ottawa, where I heard wunderkinds from other schools who would go on to become jazz musicians, such as Renee Rosnes and Campbell Ryga. Guest bands at the festivals included the Count Basie and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestras. At the festival in Edmonton, I was in the audience for an incendiary performance by a wild bunch of young upstarts called the Vancouver Ensemble of Jazz Improvisation (VEJI):

In grade 12 I formed a combo, in which I played piano. Our repertoire included tunes like Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce”, J.J. Johnson’s “Lament”, and a song I wrote called “In An Ethiopian Mood”.

In my first year at UBC I auditioned for and was somehow accepted into the university’s top big band, led by a Vancouver musical institution: trombonist, composer/arranger, and bandleader Dave Robbins. I shared the piano chair with Lester, another Chinese guy. We had an agreement: he played the tunes that involved a lot of reading, and I did the ones that just had chord symbols. Unfortunately, when Lester didn’t show up for rehearsal I had to read some difficult charts. Fred Stride, who was leading the band while Dave was sick, got annoyed with me when I regularly screwed up entrances.

After completing my second year at UBC I had two options for the summer: play in a jazz trio on a cruise ship or be a co-editor of the Summer Ubyssey student newspaper. I chose the latter, and my path was set.

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Photo by Neil Lucente

In 1984, when I was editing and writing for the arts and entertainment section of the Ubyssey, I was given the amazing opportunity to do an in-person interview with Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy was playing at a venue called the Plazazz Showroom in North Vancouver. I went with a photographer to Dizzy’s hotel room and at one point severely pissed off the jazz icon because I brought up some provocative comments that a young Wynton Marsalis had made about Dizzy, Miles Davis, and Wayne Shorter not “contributing” anymore. Because I did that, Diz gave me some great quotes, like this one: “He shouldn’t take it upon himself to comment on the masters. Our standards are set. He’s got to make it yet. Certainly he owes a lot to me, Miles, Clifford Brown – all the ones who have contributed. His contribution is zero.”

That was the first of many interviews with jazz greats that I would do, for articles I wrote in the Georgia Straight, Vancouver Sun, and Vancouver Courier. I had the privilege of conversing with Wayne Shorter, Elvin Jones, Oscar Peterson, Tony Williams, Steve Lacy, Pat Metheny, Betty Carter, Milt Jackson, Brad Mehldau, Charles Lloyd, Michael Brecker, Jackie McLean, McCoy Tyner, Dave Holland, Roy Haynes, Dave Douglas, Gary Bartz, Toots Thielemans, Tom Harrell, Danilo Perez, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and many others. Lacy was the most articulate, Shorter the weirdest.

At one point the tables were turned and Nardwuar the Human Serviette interviewed me. That was a life highlight.

I also interviewed and wrote about dozens of Vancouver jazz musicians and spent time at Vancouver jazz joints like the Classical Joint, the Red Barrel (in the Hotel Vancouver), Basin Street, Plazazz, Sheraton Landmark Jazz Bar, Glass Slipper, Rossini’s, the Hot Jazz Club, Pat’s Pub, Cory Weeds’ Cellar, Tangent Cafe, and Frankie’s.

While writing a column about Vancouver’s jazz and world music scene for the Vancouver Courier (from 1996 to 2002 – right when Cory Weeds’ Cellar began), I wrote a piece questioning the amount of jazz content in Vancouver’s jazz festival. Ken Pickering, the festival’s artistic director, called me a “pseudo jazz critic” in a letter he wrote to the newspaper. We’re now connected to each other in Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, so I think that means we’ve forgiven each other.

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By 2008, when opportunities for freelance music writing had diminished, I started playing music again for the first time in about 20 years. I played in a band called OEQ, which traversed rock, jazz, blues, reggae, and country.

My wife and I named our son Miles, and his destiny was set. I became a jazz dad, being there to support him as he played in high school stage bands, provincial honour ensembles, summer jazz camps (including one at UBC led by Fred Stride), and now starting out as a professional drummer while going to jazz school.

So that’s my jazz story, my lifelong preparation for immersing myself in the story of the two Cellars.


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Why a book on the two Cellars?

About 13 years ago I started working on a book about the history of jazz in Vancouver. My idea at the time was to research and write the complete history of jazz of Vancouver, from around the time Jelly Roll Morton played and lived at the Patricia Hotel to the present day. I did a number of interviews before my communications work got in the way. The years passed and little progress was made on the book.

Fast forward to 2012, when I quit my job managing communications and marketing at a post-secondary institution. I decided that at the age of 49, it was now or never to get on with what I really wanted to do in life. So I revived the research into the complete history of jazz in Vancouver. Much of the research was on the evolution of the city’s live jazz scene. It wasn’t long before I found an incredible blog about one club that was the place to go to hear jazz in the late fifties and early sixties: the Cellar. I kept returning to The Original Cellar Jazz Club blog, fascinated with the stories and photos of musicians who played at the club.

Meanwhile, I was increasingly spending time at the Cellar jazz club run by Cory Weeds. I’ve been going to the Cellar since it opened in 2000, but there were a few years when I lost touch with what was going on at the club. I realized that I had missed a number of stellar gigs at the Cellar. So I went to hear musicians like Lewis Nash, Seleno Clark, George Coleman, Miles Black, and Weeds himself. At some point the idea of writing a book about the two Cellars came to me. Here’s why:

  • The two Cellars are among the most important clubs in Vancouver jazz history because of the stature of visiting jazz artists they’ve presented, how the clubs have nurtured the local scene, and their longevity.
  • Each club has a compelling story, in terms of how they started, how they stayed alive, and the personalities involved.
  • The name. If the clubs had different names, I wouldn’t be writing this book, or at least not with this approach.
  • Aside from the name, there are other linkages: a number of musicians have played at both Cellars; despite the difference in eras, they have a similar bebop and hard bop-based musical sensibility; both are on or just off Broadway; both are “uptown” clubs, away from the downtown core; and both are in physical spaces that live up to their name.

Gary Cristall, who is writing a book about the history of folk music in English Canada, gave me some wise advice: interview the old folks before it’s too late. But I wasn’t prepared for the death of the great Vancouver tenor saxophonist and pianist Ross Taggart in January 2013. His passing, at 45, really compelled me to move on this book and start documenting and telling the story of this rich history.