Having not written my blog for sometime, tonight’s landmark event, seemed a fitting reintroduction to do so as I was fortunate to have the Cellar as a steady gig over the last ten years. So I wanted to take the opportunity to pay homage to the man who created the popular Vancouver venue called, “The Cellar Jazz Club” that became very close to my heart. After thirteen and a half year’s, tonight (Wednesday Feb. 26th) is the club’s final show. After his last gig in his own venue, owner, manager, label owner, musician, radio host, booking agent, father and husband, Cory Weeds will give his farewell speech to a live packed audience as well as through livestream.
The Cellar was an intimate jazz listening house, that rocked our worlds. This beloved venue was a reflection of Cory’s ardent love of jazz that was nurtured by his proud parents Bill (a jazz guitarist) & Betty Weeds who I came to know, at one of Cory’s Cuban Jazz Tours. I recall when Bill and Cory attended my first performance of the Joni Mitchell Retrospective, in 2002. Afterward they made me feel like a million bucks. New to the Vancouver scene, I so appreciated their support even though I was acutely aware, I had much to learn.
I also recall talking to Cory in those early days when he struggled to juggle his intense schedule while dealing with the millions of details that a restaurant required as well as keeping up his own chops, the constant bookings, the inevitable disgruntled folks, the ‘no shows’, the small houses, and… our sensitive artistic egos. (I once ran a restaurant and have my retail business, so I also had some idea). I still marvel at his abilities and relentless drive, at how he strategically interconnected his network that provided consistent gigs for the local burgeoning talent and attracted some of the most legendary musicians of our jazz day. His hands on, behind the scenes experiences, I feel sure would make a fabulous bio some day.
Over time as the club became the local jazz haunt it also became like a second home to so many music lovers, near and far including the local ‘Kits’ community. From Cory’s straight out, succinct yet sincere manner, to the warm and wonderful staff who always made everyone including me, my family and band, feel so welcome, it was a great experience. I grew to love my gigs at the Cellar. Overtime, my professional relationship with Cory enabled me to build my repertoire, my audience and work with some of Vancouver’s finest jazz musicians.
Whereas the other jazz clubs turned me away because I was not a ‘jazz purist’ per se, Cory loved that I sang standards and also wrote my own jazz/pop tunes . He gave me the space, to try them out and refine them at the club. I will always be grateful to him for this and so much more as it gave me the confidence, to stick with it. And I have.
I also really dug the large colorful dramatic paintings of jazz legends that adorned the wall. Especially the Billie Holiday one. Not to mention the Steinway Grand that was such an amazingly wonderful addition last year. What ingenuity was demonstrated when he sold each of the keys ( as he had done for the Yamaha before it to help pay for it ) and then commissioned a painting with the names of the patrons on each key. I bought one of the keys for the Yamaha that now sits in Chris Gestrin’s recording studio that we will be using for my upcoming recording sessions.The women’s bathroom upgrade was a highlight too as believe it or not, that bathroom lent itself to some of the most intimate conversations, as only women can do while preening.
What really stood out to me however, is how he provided such a respectful almost reverent atmosphere for we musicians in educating the audience with his consistent clear ” be quiet and listen ” precedent that was set from the get go. So the club was a great opportunity for an audience to really ‘ listen’ to all the nuances and subtlety presented and as a performer, to really be heard and seen. I can only say that as someone who struggled with this need as a child and later as a vocalist, this was the greatest gift. When I sang there, I sure felt seen and appreciated. And I felt connected to a world I had only once dreamed of engaging with. It gives me goosebumps and makes me kinda teary to recall some of those passing moments. For it was those moments of bonding with my audiences, that changed me too.
Those who attended the Cellar know their own version of magical moments amidst the flowing music, counter cultural vibe and candle lit glow, with a glass of Chardonnay in hand. Yet, how does one describe being transported to another time and place for instance, or moved to utter breathlessness and wonderment through a sax, clarinet, guitar, piano, bass solo or vocal scat? And yet this and more happened every night, every week… at what became a primary showcase for a wide range of local and international instrumentalists and vocalists. It attracted devoted appreciative audiences who became the foundational support for the club to eventually earn its well deserved status, as the #1 premier jazz club in Vancouver. All of this and so much more, will become a part of Vancouver jazz history, after tonight.
Having recently closed my own doors to my jewelry business on Bowen Island , also after thirteen and a half years, I feel I can empathize with Cory’s huge and courageous decision. Let me emphasize though that I in no way compare my retail experience to Cory’s jazz club & restaurant experience. Yet as a business owner as well as a performer there, I do know firsthand what it takes to commit to envision, birth and grow a business through the seasons of one’s own life , and all those it touches. Also I know about being held accountable in following through on that vision, every day… through every up, down, ebb, flow, twist and turn. Against all odds. Or with them. And also about letting it go.
So now as this Cellar era comes to a close I share a sadness so many also feel . I will genuinely miss being able to sing on that intimate stage . Although living on an island does not afford weekly attendance I have many, many fond and wonderful memories over those years from attending a lot of shows and being enthralled, on both sides of the stage. I loved being a performer as much as I loved to listen and learn from others. I was but a small cog in the club’s roster, yet as you can see I formed a strong alliance with it. Life as we know, is all about change and letting go. Opening and closing. Hello and goodbye’s . Yet we are lucky that this is not goodbye. Not really. As Cory recently announced he will continue to book jazz performances at 1789 Restaurant in Vancouver and it will move into a different cycle with Cory blazing undoubtedly, many new pathways.
So this is my way of acknowledging Cory and The Cellar , knowing I am but one of the many musicians near and far, who have their own stories to share too. I cannot profess to know all the myriad emotions Cory or any of us will be feeling tonight, yet I know how precious it will be to hear him share his real and poignant perspective as we all let go together. Thank you to all the staff and extended family of the Cellar. All the musicians I heard and to all the folks who attended my gigs there too. For your kindness. Your listening. Your passion for jazz and most of all , thank you Cory… for your passion, example and leadership. I look forward to what’s ahead.