24 January 2017
RE: Letter in Support of Hermann’s Jazz Club
People need oases, special places that offer nourishment for body and soul and chances to commune with fellow travelers. Now more than ever, we need places in which people come together to relish what is best and finest in humanity. Hermann’s Jazz Club is such a place. As jazz drummer Art Blakey said, “If you’re playing before an audience, you’re supposed to take them away from everyday life—wash away the dust of everyday life. And that’s all music is supposed to do.” And that’s what happens at Hermann’s.
Hermann’s is not only an oasis, but also an incubator. It’s licensed as a restaurant and welcomes all ages. I’ve heard elementary school kids at Hermann’s singing along with bassist Sean Drabbit (doing the “da das” part in Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown’s Christmas). I remember when Sean Fyfe used to sit in a corner of the club studiously doing his geometry homework until it was his turn at the piano during Tom Vickery’s jam nights; now Sean has a music degree from McGill and is a jazz player based in New York City. He’s one of many whose lives were changed by the opportunity to play before the supportive Hermann’s audience at a young age. Just last night four bands from Oak Bay High School played Hermann’s.
The big kids also play at Hermann’s. Wynton Marsalis and half a dozen members of his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (the greatest such orchestra in the world) spent hours delighting a packed house a few months ago—when they came to Hermann’s after their sold-out concert at the Farquahr auditorium (not for the first time, and I very much hope not for the last). Over the decades, hundreds of renowned players from the major cities of Canada, the US, Europe, the middle east, and Japan have played Hermann’s – sometimes as heralded headliners, other times popping in as surprise guests.
Victoria can be proud to have fostered this wellspring of music and community. From what I have heard, there is no rival room for jazz west of the Rockies. Not even LA or San Francisco has a jazz club with this much history and heart. And the potential for the future is inspiring and uplifting.
I’m pretty sure there are many more people who love jazz music than there are people who know that they love jazz music. Yes, some jazz is difficult, but much of it is lovely and sweet and makes you want to tap your feet. To quote Blakey again, “You can’t separate modern jazz from
rock or from rhythm and blues – you can’t separate it. Because that’s where it all started, and that’s where it all come from – that’s where I learned to keep rhythm – in church.”
I’ve often joked that Hermann’s is my church. For most of the last quarter century I’ve attended at least one service each week (Tom Vickery’s trio and jam). During the high holy time of Jazz Fest I might be in Hermann’s three or four times. I have come to know many regulars at Hermann’s, members of the choir as well as members of the congregation, much in the way folks get to know one another in church. There are various rituals, word spoken, patterns to the ebb and flow of the service. Our cups are filled. Our lives enriched.
Needless to say, I very much want to see Hermann’s jazz club continue to thrive. The calendar has been packed with terrific shows (see the schedule at http://hermannsjazz.com/calendar ), which have attracted good crowds, but even with full houses most nights the club doesn’t bring in enough to cover costs of the whole building. The little bar at the front of the building seems to be doing well, but it is not a big money maker. What is needed, as I understand it, is a paying tenant for the beautiful large room on the second floor. That room is gorgeous and has tremendous potential. There must be any number of performance-oriented groups who would love to use that space. Somehow such groups have to be found and inspired. In the meantime, a way to keep Hermann’s afloat must be found. I am keen to help, and I know that many others are too. Are you?
24 January 2017