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.

Happy 100th Birthday, Eleanor!

“She could start fires by rubbing two notes together!” – Vancouver Sun columnist Jack Wasserman on Eleanor Collins (December 1953).

Eleanor Collins Photo: Franz Lindner

There are not enough adjectives to describe the luminous, talented, inspiring… Ms. Eleanor Collins. Jack Wasserman does a pretty good job (above) describing her singing performance. And in an article from 2006, Red Robinson said that “[Eleanor] lit up our city by her very being”. On November 21, 2019, Eleanor Collins celebrates her 100th birthday. Time to celebrate and honour this amazing centenarian.

I first wrote about Eleanor, in 2014, in a post called All That Jazz which was about the history of jazz on CBC-TV in Vancouver. 3 years later, I wrote a longer biographical post about her that you can read here. A version of that same article appeared in Scout Magazine  February 22, 2017.

Since that time I have discovered some new (old) photographs of Eleanor and found some great newspaper clippings and links. I’ve gathered them all together to share on the occasion of Eleanor’s 100th birthday. Let’s go!

Eleanor Collins, 1965. Photo: Franz Lindner

 

By 1963 Eleanor had earned the epithet “Vancouver’s first lady of Jazz”. The Flat Five jazz house was located at 3623 West Broadway.

 

This article from the Vancouver Sun (July 16, 1955 p50) appeared at the time she got her own nationally broadcast TV show. This made Eleanor the first Black artist in North America and the first Canadian woman to host a nationally broadcast television series.

 

Publicity print of Eleanor Collins ca. 1950s.

 

In the 1970s the kind of music that Eleanor sang went out of popular favour, so an article like this one appeared “whatever happened to singer of yesteryear, Eleanor Collins.” Fortunately, by the end of the 1980s and early 90s Eleanor’s type of music was re-discovered and became popular with a new generation of Canadians. Source: The Province, August 16, 1973, p36.

 

Eleanor Collins on the set of Quintet, April 1962. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection

I was in love with her then as now. It isn’t just her music; it’s the whole package. Collins has a magical personality and a wonderful philosophical view on life and living, and to her, family is everything. – Red Robinson, 2006

Red Robinson (a Vancouver icon in his own right) wrote this ‘love letter’ to Eleanor Collins in 2006. Source: Vancouver Sun, Feb 16, 2006 p.44.

 

CBC Television News Career Highlights and Investment into Order Of Canada November 21, 2014

 

More recently, at the Yucho Chow exhibition opening last May, an unidentified author at the Ollie Quinn blog did a Q&A with Collins and her daughter Judith Maxie.

One Hundred Years of Jazz: A conversation with Canada’s First Lady of Jazz, Eleanor Collins, C.M.
Eleanor Collins and her daughter Judith Maxie at the Yucho Chow exhibit, May 2019. Source: Photography: Garfield James, Lori Vance – Ollie Quinn blog

So then, what is the key to living a long life like Eleanor has? I think one aspect must be a lifelong love of singing and music that keeps one young. Just look at another Vancouver music icon Dal Richards he lived to the age of 97 and Ms. Eleanor Collins at 100 is still going strong. Eleanor practices healthy living and carries a positive spirit as part of her daily routine, filling her days with “lots of good music, good television, good food, and good family and friends”. And, of course, an overall joie de vivre is essential.

Ever since  I first saw Eleanor sing on an old CBC TV Kinescope over 13 years ago I have been a big fan of hers. Her elegance, her stage presence, her beauty (both inside & out), her voice! It was magic! Eleanor, you are an inspiration to me with your energy, positivity, and enjoyment of life.

Happy Birthday, Eleanor!

P.S.  Here is the link to the CBC Vancouver TV news story on Eleanor Collins’ 100th.

And the link to the CBC Radio jazz program Hot Air’s hour-long tribute to Eleanor Collins on the occasion of her 100th Birthday! Of course, the best part of the show is not only hearing her singing voice, but to hear her speaking today, which is just as entertaining! (Special thanks to CBC radio host Paolo Pietropaolo for giving props to the local CBC Vancouver Archives staff for introducing him to the wonderful Eleanor 10 years ago.)

 

 

Eleanor Collins: Vancouver’s First Lady of Jazz

Several years ago I worked in the CBC Vancouver Media Archives on a film preservation project. The content introduced me to much of Vancouver’s moving image history as well as the artists and technicians who created that legacy. One of the most fascinating artists to catch my eye and ear was Eleanor Collins.

Publicity portrait of Eleanor Collins. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Photo Collection
Publicity portrait of Eleanor Collins. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Photo Collection

My fascination with this amazing woman all started with a single photograph (see above) from the CBC Vancouver Still Photograph Collection. I was mesmerized by her radiance. As a jazz fan, I had to find out more about this performer. Viewing some of her television work from the 50’s & 60’s, I was enthralled by her luminous appearance, her sultry sound, and her magnetic screen presence. But, there is so much more to this fascinating woman… Continue reading “Eleanor Collins: Vancouver’s First Lady of Jazz”

60th Anniversary of CBUT – Part 2 – All That Jazz

Two images of the exterior of the former Cellar Jazz club. Left- January 2014 a couple of months before the building was torn down To make way for more condos! Photo: C. Hagemoen. Right- March 21, 1961, CBUT on location at the Cellar, Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.
Two images of the exterior of the former Cellar Jazz club. Left- January 2014 a couple of months before the building was torn down To make way for more condos! Photo: C. Hagemoen. Right- March 21, 1961, CBUT on location at the Cellar to record Jazz #3, Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

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. Continue reading “60th Anniversary of CBUT – Part 2 – All That Jazz”