Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 6 – Mount Pleasant: Jazz Central

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Inside the Cellar: March 21, 1961. Photos: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

For much of the second half of the 20th Century, Mount Pleasant was the neighbourhood for jazz in the city with establishments like The Hot Jazz Society Hot Jazz Club (1980s – ca. 2004) and The Glass Slipper (1988 – early 90s). All that jazz started with The Cellar – a co-operative founded and operated by members of the local bebop jazz scene. Opened in April 1956, The Cellar was officially located at 222 East Broadway, but the entrance to the basement bottle-club was at the side of the building at 2514 Watson Street. The subterranean space was built into the natural ravine of Brewery Creek, which ran across Watson Street between 10th Ave and Broadway.

The old Cellar Jazz building shortly before its demolition in 2014.

Until its closing in 1963, The Cellar was known as “one of the leading jazz clubs in North America”. It hosted local jazz musicians and international jazz greats such as Charles Mingus, Ernestine Anderson, Ornette Coleman, and Wes Montgomery. Some of the visiting musicians would stay at the City Centre Motor Inn or at the “bebop house”, located 3 or 4 blocks from Cellar, where a few core members of the Cellar resided. The Cellar wasn’t just a venue for jazz music; it also hosted plays, poetry readings, and featured artworks by Harry Webb.

While I was working at the CBC Vancouver Media Archives several years ago, I was fortunate to re-discover and digitize some of Franz Lindner’s photographs documenting the production of a jazz music programme filmed on location at The Cellar – a rare look inside the iconic jazz club.

“Jazz # 3” – CBC mobile unit on location. March 21, 1961. The Cellar (222 East Broadway – Entrance at rear off Watson St.) exterior. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

For more information about the Cellar and the Vancouver jazz scene, I recommend reading Marian Jago’s 2018 book, “Live at the Cellar: Vancouver’s Iconic Jazz Club and the Canadian Co-operative Jazz Scene in the 1950s and ‘60s”. It’s full of facts and great stories, like the night in 1961 when Charles Mingus hit a BC Lion over the head with a toilet plunger between sets.

Advance poster for Charlie Mingus concerts at the Cellar, 1960, designed by Harry Webb. Adrienne Brown Collection.

If you want to hear what it sounded like inside The Cellar, check out Al Neil: The Cellar Years – archival recordings from 1957… have a listen here:

Al Neil: The Cellar Years by Condition West Recordings

And here’s a video from The Hot Jazz Club in 1982:

From the archives of Don/Brian Ogilvie.

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