Cory Weeds is well known in Vancouver jazz circles as a concert promoter, record-label boss, and former club owner, not to mention a pretty decent sax player. He came by his love of jazz honestly, as his father is an amateur guitarist who had a lot of jazz records playing in the house. At first the young Weeds took a rebellious stance, attempting to dislike jazz just because his father loved it so much, but that didn't work.
"I tried to really hate jazz," he says on the line from his Burnaby home, "but eventually, man, it just got to me. It got to me quite seriously in about Grade 10 or 11, and then it really took off in Grade 12, and I never looked back. Jazz just excites me more than any other kind of music, and I've been very lucky. I've managed to have a career doing nothing but jazz."
Weeds owned and operated the Cellar Jazz club near Broadway and Alma for 14 years, and has released over 300 recordings via the Cellar Music Group. After Cellar Jazz closed in 2014 he continued as a diligent promoter of local jazz musicians, booking talent at Frankie's Jazz Club since 2016.
When asked to name his Vancouver sax heroes, the first person that comes to Weeds's mind is Ross Taggart. Sadly, Taggart succumbed to cancer in 2013 at the age of 45, but Weeds has a number of other faves that are still active on the scene.
"I was really disappointed that I was away and missed Campbell Ryga last weekend," he says. "And it's always exciting to see Brad Turner and his quartet—Brad's always doin' really good stuff. I miss Oliver Gannon a lot, too. He's been struggling with some hand issues, but it's always special when he graces the stage. And there's a young guy named John Lee who's a multi-instrumentalist, and I love playing with him, but I also love just watching his bands. So there's a lot of incredible talent here."
Weeds's latest major effort to promote the city's top jazz artists and showcase their skills will be Jazz @ the Bolt, a three-day music festival that runs this weekend from February 11 to 13 at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts. It's a venue that's near and dear to Weeds's heart.
"I was born and raised in Burnaby," he relates, "so I watched that centre develop since the early days. I was reached out to by them to start a jam session, and we had really great success with that. Then I started kinda working as a contractor there and doing four or five shows a year.
"The setting is beautiful," he raves, "right off of Deer Lake. It's a nice centre with high ceilings, and they've got many spaces. They've got the James Cowan Theatre, which seats about 300, and they've got a Studio Theatre which is about 185. And then they've got some rooms that you can open up and make it bigger."
Weeds feels that the layout of the 35,000 square-foot Shadbolt Centre makes it particularly well suited to the "jazz walk" type of event he envisions Jazz @ the Bolt to be.
"The concept of the festival is that it's a roaming festival," he says, "so we have bands starting at 11, 11:15, and 11:30, and then once that 11:30 set is done around 12:15 there's a little break and then it all starts again. So the idea is, you may come to the festival, and you may not get to hear one band because that room will be full, so you just go to the next room, and then when somebody leaves the other room you can go in.
"Now, COVID has made it a little bit difficult, because if we don't have a certain amount of people in the centre the roaming concept doesn't work as well. But the way I'm kind of viewing it is that, look, Vancouver needs this festival. We need something to celebrate. So however it's gonna work, it's gonna work."
Weeds has booked New York City's Mike LeDonne and the Groover Quartet for the opening-night performance on Friday, when it will be joined by a big band composed of 13 local jazz heavyweights. As well as Weeds himself on baritone sax, the lineup will include tenor saxophonist Dave Say, acoustic bassist John Lee, alto saxophonists Steve Kaldestad and James Danderfer; trombonists Rod Murray, Brad Shigeta, Jim Hopson, and Jeremy Berkman; and trumpeters Brad Turner, Chris Davis, Derry Byrne, and Jocelyn Waugh.
While Weeds is thrilled about taking part in Jazz @ the Bolt's opening gig, there's plenty more that he's recommending people see.
"On Saturday I'm really excited about the Michael Stephenson Quintet," he says, "Michael's a very talented young man. I'm also excited about Alex Claffy's quintet with Nicole Glover, a great saxophonist who's really tearing up the scene in New York City. And then locally speaking on that day, Steve Kaldestad, who's a dear friend of mine, I always love hearing him; he's one of my favourite saxophone players."
Sunday's program features an all-Canadian lineup, but Weeds notes that it wasn't difficult at all finding enough worthy Canuck jazz acts to fill the bill.
"It's no problem," he says. "We're very lucky in Canada. The Ostara Project, the all-female collective co-led by Jodi Proznick, that's gonna be really neat. It's always nice when you can bring seven talented women together. Black Gardenia is a really cool band, and Blue Moon Marquee is fantastic. Amanda Tosoff's gonna do a trio gig, and she's a wonderful pianist.
"That's the beauty about being able to book a festival, 'cause you can book all the stuff that you want to hear."
Jazz @ the Bolt takes place at Burnaby's Shadbolt Centre for the Arts from February 11 to 13.