I knew its days were numbered when I saw the blue construction fencing being installed around its perimeter a few weeks ago. Sure enough, two days later a bulldozer was pulling down the final remains of a piece of Vancouver’s jazz history – The Cellar Jazz Club. Officially located at 222 East Broadway, the entrance to the basement club was in the rear along the “alley like” Watson Street. The Cellar, which opened in April 1956, was a “bottle club” – it had no liquor license. British Columbia historically has had very odd liquor laws (still does in many ways) and so most cabarets would sell ice and soft drinks while allowing patrons to bring in their own concealed containers of alcohol. The Cellar was founded and operated by members of the local jazz scene.
Practically at the same time the remains of the Cellar Jazz club were being torn down, another “Cellar” jazz venue was closing across town. After 13 years, [though I recall it being around earlier than that- probably with a different owner] Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club (3611 West Broadway) closed its doors. Named one of the the world’s best jazz clubs by Downbeat Magazine, the popular Vancouver jazz venue eventually closed, not from lack of support, but due to financial reasons. [For more about Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club listen to an interview with Weeds and CBC Radio Hot Air host, Margaret Gallagher here.]
But what, you may be thinking, does this “tale of two cellars” have anything to do with the 60th anniversary of CBUT? Plenty! This next post in the series celebrating 60 years of CBUT is all about jazz!
In the 1950s and 1960s Vancouver had a thriving jazz scene. Jazz in all its forms was very popular. That popularity was reflected in the local television (CBUT) and radio (CBU) programs on which many local jazz artists were frequently featured. In that sense, along with the various clubs and coffee houses (e.g. The Cellar, The Black Spot, The Cave, Inquisition Coffee House) CBC TV and radio became just another performance venue in the Vancouver jazz scene. In many ways, the “tale of two cellars” represents the arc of the Vancouver jazz scene – its birth and renaissance- the appearance of each venue suggesting a thriving local jazz scene.
Like most things television, it all began on the radio. The locally produced CBC Radio (CBU) show, Hot Air, has been giving modern jazz its weekly due in BC since 1947. Originally hosted by jazz columnist Bob Smith (1947-1982), the program covers jazz from all eras with a particular interest in B.C. artists. So in 1955, 7 years after Hot Air began broadcasting and only months after CBC TV (CBUT) went to air, it was only natural to put all that jazz on the new medium of television.
In the very beginning CBUT had very little local programming. Its wasn’t until after being the local broadcaster for the 1954 British Empire & Commonwealth Games that CBUT local programming really came into its own. CBUT began to produce musical variety shows like Parade (premiering October 25, 1954) which ran for eight episodes and featured musicians and singers from the local music (jazz) scene including: Eleanor Collins, Ray Norris Quintet, Lorraine McAllister and Chris Gage. Singer Eleanor Collins also appeared earlier in 1954 in the CBUT live production titled, Bamboula: a day in the West Indies. In this excerpt from the program she sings the jazz standard “Ill Wind (You’re Blowin’ Me No Good)“.
Collins soon had her own television series, the Eleanor Show. Alan Millar acted as host for this summer of 1955 weekly music series starring singer Eleanor Collins and pianist Chris Gage. Collins was also accompanied by the Ray Norris Quintet featuring Ray Norris (guitar), Fraser McPherson (saxophone), Carse Sneddon (trumpet), Jim Wightman (drums) and Stan Johnson (bass). Regular performers on the show include dancers Leonard Gibson and Denise Quan. The Eleanor Show regulars along with a variety of guests (like Pat Kirkpatrick, singer Don Francks, Tott Moons, Thelma Gibson, and Juliette Cavazzi) performed music around a particular theme each week.The show first aired on CBUT Channel 2, Sunday, June 12, 1955 at 10 pm.
Known as “Vancouver’s first lady of jazz” Eleanor Collins was (is) a ground breaking figure in Canadian history. At a time when she “didn’t see a lot of my people on TV”, being the first black woman in North America to star in her own television series was a significant milestone. In fact, Eleanor beat Nat King Cole’s achievement of being the first black person to star in their own show on American television by over a year – The Nat King Cole Show debuted November 1956 on NBC.
You can learn more about the luminous Eleanor Collins in this 1988 profile of her on the CBC Vancouver program Here & Now. Lynne McNamara talks with Eleanor about her life and her career. The segment includes many archival TV clips and photographs.
The one-off show Back O’ Town Blues (1955) starring Eleanor Collins, Thelma Gibson and Don Francks featured a number of jazz and blues songs. This dixieland blues themed program also featured Ray Norris and his orchestra with the music arranged by Al Macmillan and Doug Randle.
In October of 1955 Harmony House first aired. Sponsored by Nabob Foods, Harmony House was a successful radio show for 13 years that moved to television on October 8, 1955 and ran for 26 occasions to April 12, 1956, airing 8:00-8:30 pm each Thursday. It was a music show of popular songs that featured many artists from the local jazz scene. The cast of regular performers included the following: Alan Millar- Host, Pat Morgan-Vocalist, Fran Gregory- Vocalist, Terry Dale-Vocalist, Diane McLellan- Nabob Quartette, Pat Trudell- Nabob Quartette, Art Lintott- Nabob Quartette, Bobbie Reid- Nabob Quartette, Ricky Hyslop- Conductor-Arranger, Lance Harrison-Sax- Clarinet, Fraser MacPherson- Sax-Clarinet, Cliff Binyon-Clarinet, Art Lintott- Sax, Stu Barnett- Trumpet, Carse Sneddon- Trumpet, Bobbie Reid- Trumpet, Dave Pepper- Trombone, Pat Trudell- Accordian, Stan Johnson- Bass, Bud Henderson- Piano, Jim Wightman- Drums.
In the fall of 1957, Meet Lorraine with singer Lorraine McAllister, Chris Gage on piano, Stan Johnson on bass, and Jimmy Wightman on drums debuted. A series 15-minute popular music shows with the charming Lorraine introducing and singing all the musical numbers ran on CBUT from 1957-1959. Occasionally, McAllister’s husband and big band leader, Dal Richards would take time out of his busy schedule to appear on the show.
Other instances of jazz television programming on CBUT in the 1950s included:
Strange House (March 1956). A one-off show, starring Eleanor Collins,Thelma Gibson and Don Francks. Music by Ray Norris and his Orchestra. The half-hour musical takes its name from an original composition written by Al MacMillan. Music for ‘Strange House’ was arranged by Al MacMillan and Doug Randle.
Pacific 13’s – Jazz at the PNE August 27, 1956 – A live jazz program from the CBC Show Tent at the Pacific National Exhibition, was hosted by Bob Smith and featured singer Eleanor Collins, the Vancouver Jazz Society’s 18-piece orchestra led by Bobby Reid and a Dixieland group lead by Lance Harrison.
Pacific 8’s – Jazz Variations on a Theme – 1959. Variations on the Hoagy Carmichael song “I Get Along Without You Very Well” were performed by Dave Robbins and an all-star band, comprising Vancouver musicians from the Chris Gage Trio, the Fraser MacPherson band and the Lance Harrison Dixielanders. The arranger and conductor is trombonist Dave Robbins. The program was broadcast simultaneously on TV and radio.
Cool Pepper (1957), a musical series featured musician and arranger Dave Pepper and his orchestra, first aired Friday May 3, 1957 at 10:00 p.m.
A very special jazz performance was captured on CBUT in 1958 on the program “The 7 O’Clock Show” when African-American poet, Langston Hughes recited his poem, “The Weary Blues” to jazz accompaniment with the Doug Parker Band.
All that great jazz continued on CBUT through the 1960s until the start of the 1970s:
A series of jazz programs produced by Jim Carney aired on CBUT in 1961. Simply called Jazz (1 through 8) the programs featured the best of jazz in and around Vancouver. The premiere program Jazz #1, Mind Of Mingus, featured renowned jazz bass virtuoso Charles Mingus in performance with his quartet – Danny Richmond (drums), Charles McPherson (alto sax), and Lonnie Hillyer (trumpet). Between numbers, Mingus talked with Bob Quintrell at a Vancouver nightclub. Jazz #2 featured big-band jazz led by New Westminster musician Ray Sikora, and was telecast live from CBC’s studio 41 in Vancouver. During his career, Sikora played and arranged for famous North American orchestras as those of Stan Kenton, Les Elgart and Jerry Gray. Jazz #3 was taped on location at The Cellar (222 East Broadway) using the CBUT mobile production unit.
The Cellar was the impetus for another jazz special on CBUT – jazz artist Ernestine Anderson’s appeared in her own jazz special Ernestine: jazz from Vancouver (October 7, 1963). Anderson was in Vancouver for a two-week performance at The Cellar, it was held-over for a third week, and it was during that period that the show was taped using a band comprised of some of Vancouver’s leading jazz musicians.
In 1961 Eleanor Collins was joined by the Chris Gage Trio appearing in a program called Blues and the Ballad. Three years later in 1964, Eleanor Collins was starring in another music series simply titled Eleanor. In this l964 Eleanor series, Collins was backed once more by a trio led by Chris Gage. They performed their renditions of show tunes and popular music from the USA. Guests included local jazz musicians: trumpet and trombone player Carse Sneddon, alto sax and flute player Fraser MacPherson, and Don Thompson (vibraphone).
Unfortunately, tragedy devastated the local jazz scene when Vancouver’s leading jazz pianist Chris Gage committed suicide December 27, 1964. Chris Gage was the regular pianist on many CBUT (and CBU) music programs (including Cool Pepper, Eleanor Show 1955 & 1964). Born 1927 in Regina, Saskatchewan Gage started playing the piano (by ear) in amateur contests at the age of five. At the age of six (or seven) he began touring with a small band led by his brother Jerry through Saskatchewan. At ten he played his first summer resort and by 11 was playing in a small nightclub for two years, playing from 9:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. nightly. Early on he became interested in writing and arranging, and by the age of 14 was arranging music for Christmas mass with orchestral background. He first played for the CBC (Winnipeg) with a band ( which he and his brother Tony formed in Winnipeg) in 1946. In 1948 the band was in Vancouver and played the Vancouver ballroom. After the band broke up Chris returned to Vancouver in 1949 to play the Palomar Supper Club. Thus beginning a series of long standing gigs at jazz venues around Vancouver including the Arctic Club, The Cellar and The Cave. Canadian jazz great Oscar Peterson allegedly once said Chris Gage was the only pianist he feared.
Local Jazz Festivals allowed CBUT programs to feature jazz greats from around the world. On Jazz Festival (September 1964) artists appearing at the Summer Jazz Festival in Vancouver were interviewed by Maurice Foisy backstage including: Dave Robbins, Wally Lightbody, Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto (shortly after the worldwide success of Girl from Ipanema). The show also included clips from the jazz performances and Vox Pop from Jazz Festival attendees.
Contemplations (aka Spring Music Festival – Jazz) aired in April 1965. A premiere performance of an original jazz suite ‘Contemplations’ composed by former Vancouver bassist Paul Ruhland and played by Dave Robbins and his 20 piece orchestra. The performance took place April 10 in the Hotel Vancouver ballroom. ‘Contemplations’ was scored for five trumpets, five woodwinds, four trombones, tuba, piano, rhythm section and tympani.
In 1966 jazz musician, Fraser MacPherson (originally from Victoria) was featured in the CBUT (CBC Vancouver) program 20/20 in a documentary titled – “Diary of a Musician”. In these excerpts Fraser MacPherson is seen at the CBC radio recording studios in the Hotel Vancouver and leading his band at the Cave Supper club. Also seen playing are local musicians Doug Parker and Stan “Cuddles” Johnson.
Quiet Nights (1967), was a seven week ballad-jazz series from CBUT Vancouver’s Studio 42. The program featured Don Thompson on piano and vibes, who each week was joined by other well known Vancouver musicians.
A second variety series called Parade (CBUT had a thing about recycling show titles back then it seems) with Carse Sneddon’s Sextet and the Parade Dancers aired in the 1966/67 season.
Another longtime regular on CBUT (starting with Harmony House) was the Vancouver born and raised jazz musician Lance Harrison. Lance’s Jazz House , 1967 highlighted Lance Harrison’s passion for Dixieland jazz. In 1971 Lance travelled to New Orleans (the birthplace of jazz) to film the CBC TV special Journey to New Orleans: Impressions of a Canadian Jazzman.
By 1967, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times they were a changin’. Later that same year the changing social scene in Vancouver was reflected in the series The Enterprise – 1967. This experimental program was without a host to guide viewers from item to item; it attempted to let the audience enjoy the excitement of the experience of discovery without the intrusion of a guide. It was an open-ended program varying in length as was dictated by the material presented that particular week. The Enterprise featured items of an experimental nature including featuring local jazz musicians Doug Parker and Al Neil. In one episode [The Enterprise No. 3], pianist Al Neil read poetry to an accompaniment of jazz and musique concrete by the Al Neil Trio (Nov. 15, 1967) – “a sound experience with the Al Neil Trio of Vancouver”. In another pianist Doug Parker improvised a musical accompaniment for video images that appeared on monitors in the TV studio. The 13-week series began on CBUT Wednesday, November 1, 1967 at 11:43 p.m. Gene Lawrence was the show’s producer and CBUT film director, Stan Fox was it’s executive producer.
Over the years CBUT was host to international jazz artists who would often appear as guests of regular CBUT programs or even star in their own one-off jazz specials. One such example of this were the two shows hosted by comedian Mike Neun in 1970 and 1971. First, In The Round (1970) was a Vancouver-produced series hosted by Mike Neun and featured the Doug Parker Quartet. As the series title suggests, the hosts and their guests were arranged in a circular pattern in the studio. Jazz great Duke Ellington made an appearance in April 1970. For the 1970/71 television season Neun hosted The Mike Neun Show with Doug Parker’s house band providing the music. In October of that same year American jazz singer, Sarah Vaughan was a guest performer.
By the 1970s and into the 1980s the jazz scene (and entire music scene) in Vancouver had dramatically changed. Jazz music was not as universally popular as it once had been in the 1950s and 1960s. This change in musical tastes saw jazz programming virtually disappear from CBUT during this time (only to be heard on CBC radio).
Lying dormant for a while, the local jazz scene was revived starting in the mid 1990s. The opening of Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club in 2000 signaled in the renaissance of the local jazz scene. Unfortunately, this time period also marked the beginning of the end for local programming on CBC-TV and musicians from the local jazz scene were rarely to be seen on CBUT-TV again. [So far] Thankfully CBC radio is still able to feature artists from the local and international jazz scene with shows like Hot Air – only time will tell how long that tradition will be able to continue.
In 2008, while working in the CBC Vancouver media archives, I was fortunate to be able to provide many still photographs for the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society’s interactive website on the history of jazz in Vancouver – JazzStreet Vancouver. Already a fan of jazz music, while researching images from the CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection for the JazzStreet project, I really began to learn about, and appreciate Vancouver’s rich jazz history. I strongly suggest you spend some time exploring this important resource of Vancouver history – http://www.jazzstreetvancouver.ca/. To learn more about the original Cellar Jazz Club check out this very informative blog by Gregg Simpson – http://theoriginalcellarjazzclub.blogspot.ca/