Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Loss of Vancouver jazz club a blow to fans and players

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VANCOUVER -- In just over a week, when the doors clank shut for the last time at the popular Cellar Jazz Club, the noise will be heard throughout Canada's jazz community and into the United States.

On Feb. 27, alto saxophonist Cory Weeds will shut the doors on the jazz club/restaurant he has run for the past 131/2 years. Since he first announced it, musicians and fans from across the country and the U.S. have expressed their dismay at the loss and their gratitude to Weeds for featuring so much great music over the years.

"Of course it sent shock waves around the jazz world. I didn't realize how far it would reach and the impact it would have, you know -- not only in Vancouver, but all over the province, all over the country and all over the continent," Weeds, 40, says.

It was Aug. 8, 2000, when Weeds took over the Kitsilano basement club and made it a home for fans to hear Vancouver's best jazz players and visiting musicians such as pianist Harold Mabern, guitarist Peter Bernstein, trumpeter Tom Harrell, organist Mike LeDonne, saxophonist David (Fathead) Newman and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, who performed with a nonet at the club last month.

Closing a venue on musicians "is a burden that's hard to deal with," Weeds said recently. "I have a sense of responsibility for musicians in Vancouver.

"I'm not finished presenting music; I'm just finished at the club," Weeds says.

He has put jazz musicians in a Vancouver restaurant and run a concert series in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's Pyatt Hall, a venue he's thinking of using for the jazz festival as well.

"I'll still bring in U.S. musicians," Weeds says, "but I have to make it cost-effective; with a concert series it's hard to do multiple nights."

He can concentrate more on his music career, and he is looking at other ways to present shows.

Bassist Jodi Prosnick calls the closing "like losing a friend, a community gathering place. I love how David Byrne talks of that third corner of the triangle, the space itself."

The 38-year-old Vancouver native moved back from Montreal with her husband-to-be Tilden Webb, a pianist, at the time Weeds was opening the Cellar. They have played regularly at the club ever since, both in their own bands and accompanying out-of-town artists.

During that time, "I got married, pregnant -- a lot of people watched me growing up," Proznick says. "I can really tell you I've grown up there. Cory and the Cellar have given me a chance to stretch. I've experienced profound growth over the years.

"Clubs come and go," she says, "but there is nothing like a six-night-a-week club (here); nothing else like that.

"If you wanted to see Vancouver musicians any night of the week you could go to the Cellar," she adds.

"Cory presented jazz in a way that was welcoming -- a fabulous dynamic for fans who came once and came back for years," the bassist says. "It will be sad not to see those fans regularly."

Weeds will also continue his Cellar Live recordings (Winnipegger Jeff Presslaff's The Rebirth of the Cool has just been released), although it will admittedly be harder to record live performances without a club.

The Cellar's last night of music, Feb. 26, will feature saxophonist Mike Allen, who opened the club in 2000. He'll perform in a trio, quartet and with guests, Weeds says, then the last set will be a jam session. CBC will record the show.

There's no single reason for closing the Cellar, Weeds says, but "what I can tell you that is 100 per cent true is that it was a personal decision of mine."

However, factors such as "We have had problems with the landlord working something out that's going to be viable long-term at the Cellar," July through October were bad months for restaurants in general and "the restaurant industry has been something I've been continuously uncomfortable with... I'm not good at it, " Weeds says.

As Weeds says: "Clubs come and go. (But) this one had a more important place in history."

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2014 D3

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