Two Cellars

A book about Vancouver jazz history by Chris Wong

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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. See “Jazz” in Vol. 2 of Absintheminded Magazine.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Jon Mayer

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.”


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.

Cory Weeds 2

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.

Dizzy Gillespie

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.


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.

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A blog about a jazz book in progress

Welcome to the Two Cellars blog. This blog is all about a book I’m researching and writing. The book will document the rich history of two leading jazz clubs in Vancouver both named the Cellar: the Cellar that Cory Weeds currently runs on West Broadway, and the Cellar that operated from 1956 to 1964 on East Broadway. The book will also look at clubs that operated in the space of the original Cellar, from approximately 1968 to 1971: Jazz Alley and the Old Cellar.

My plan is to do the following with the blog:

  • Talk about the process of researching and writing the book, including who I’m interviewing, where I’m going to do the research, and how the arc of the book is developing.
  • Share excerpts from interviews and archival material I’m gathering.
  • Write about personal experiences – directly or tangentially related to the book – that likely won’t end up being in the book.
  • Share drafts of writing and photos that will end up in the book, in some form.
  • Obtain input from people reading the blog, who are encouraged to leave comments.

While that’s the plan, the blog could also evolve in other unplanned directions.

So thanks for reading the blog, and following my journey as I research and write a book about the two Cellars.

Chris Wong