Lunch with Cory Weeds

Cory Weeds | BCBusiness
Cory Weeds ran his west side jazz club, Cellar, for 13 years, before shuttering it last February.

Cory Weeds turned the Cellar into Vancouver’s jazz club. With it gone, he reflects on challenges for the arts in an outdoorsy city

Few people can pull off such vernacular—without a hint of parody—as “late-night hangs with the cats” or “smokin’ joint.” But the unforgettably named Cory Weeds, the city’s most recognized jazz impresario, riffs seamlessly on the music genre’s lingo.

“I didn’t set out to be cool—it just happened,” the 40-year-old BCIT business grad says with a laugh. “When it comes from a genuine place, it works.”

Even so, his wife, Alana—whom he met at the Cellar, the west side club he ran for 13 years before shuttering it last February—has been known to call him on it. “She’ll let me know if I go too far and I’ve been with the New York jazz guys too much,” continues the saxophonist, who fell for the Cellar after first playing there. (He borrowed money from his father as soon as he heard the lease was on offer.)

Cory Weeds’s Favourites

1. “For my Americano coffee, I like Prado (1938 Commercial Dr.; I’m just not someone who’s interested in ‘decorating’ stuff, so this café works.”

2. “I just keep going back to Siena (1485 West 12th Ave.;, and not just because the owner, Mark Taylor, used to live near the Cellar. I love Siena: the ambience, the food.”

3. “I may eat a muffin rather than their famous cinnamon rolls nowadays, but I love Grounds For Coffee (2565 Alma St.; I’m conscious of what I eat now.”

Weeds’s Cellar was the go-to place for jazz in the city, boasting nights with musicians such as Joey DeFrancesco and frequently voted one of the Top 100 Jazz Clubs Worldwide by The DownBeat International Jazz Club Guide. If CBC did anything on jazz in Vancouver, it was often taped there.

We’re meeting at Browns Socialhouse in Point Grey before the Vancouver International Jazz Festival rolls into town in June. Since vacating the lease and closing down the club (Weeds—a Burnaby resident and father of two—says he wanted to recalibrate his work/life balance, as well as leave on a high), the musician and record-label owner has continued with what he calls “his brand,” including taking people on a tour of the Big Apple’s jazz venues and running gigs at venues throughout Vancouver.

But his closing of the Cellar has left the city without a dedicated live venue for jazz, and perhaps the question of whether there’s even a business model for one. Weeds says that, despite his success, the struggles facing cultural venues are multifold.

For him, in addition to being restricted to 85 seats at the Cellar, the venue suffered from a problem familiar to most arts groups in town: lack of attendance outside of prime nights. Weekend traffic was healthy, “but what do you do on Tuesdays and Wednesdays?” he asks over kale salad. “I’ve always said the mountains and water have ruined this city. Everybody is too maxed out with paying their mortgages for their expensive homes and then little happens at night, or it starts raining and people can’t make it out.”

This is the type of irritant that prompts Weeds to equate running a club to “therapy.” For example, the nature of jazz creates a niche audience with a sense of ownership, patrons who feel driven to offer opinions (and criticisms) on everything right down to the food. Weeds says he took these criticisms personally. “I’m an artist and that stuff just doesn’t fall off me,” he stresses. “It’s what’s made me good at what I do, but also made me feel burnt out. It’s not that people are trying to hurt me; it’s because people care.”

Little wonder he has no desire to enter the scene again without a separate restaurant manager (he is also pondering a liquor-primary or a not-for-profit setup). As for the undisclosed offers to resurrect the Cellar at other restaurants, it all circles back to the art form.

“Presenting jazz is different,” Weeds proffers. “When people say, ‘Oh, bring your jazz here,’ I always say, ‘Do you know what that means? I’m going to stand up and tell people who are eating to be quiet.’”