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Cory Weeds can pinpoint a defining moment when he felt really excited about being at a jazz event. It was seeing pianist Renee Rosnes play, sometime in the mid-’90s, at the Vancouver Jazz Festival.
“I was a young adult, and I felt like I'd kind of come into my own,” Weeds recalls in an interview with the Straight.
At the time, Weeds was an on-the-rise saxophonist, soon to be revered for his smooth and soulful storytelling on the horn. He also had his own radio show, and was beginning to venture into the entrepreneurial side of the music business—owning and running the legendary Cellar Jazz Club from 2000 until it shuttered in 2014, and launching his record label, the Cellar Music Group, in 2001.
But that Renee Rosnes moment, and the feeling it sparked in Weeds—which collided with a special time in his life and burgeoning career—wouldn’t have been possible without the Jazz Festival: it’s an institution the now-impresario describes as an important piece of Vancouver’s musical fabric, as well as “of anyone's history who's grown up loving jazz in this city.”
Weeds hopes to inspire a similar feeling of excitement with his own annual festival, Jazz @ the Bolt, which runs February 4 and 5 at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in his hometown of Burnaby. It launched in 2019, the idea inspired by jazz walks in Seattle’s Ballard neighbourhood in which Weeds had participated as a musician. City spaces like coffee shops and clothing stores were converted into live venues that audiences could stroll to and take in tunes at their leisure.
Initially, Weeds considered doing something similar around downtown Vancouver, close to Frankie’s Jazz Club on Beatty Street, where he’s booked bands since 2016. But, one day, while at the Shadbolt, where he’d been presenting concerts, he had an idea. The venue has three performance theatres, each distinct in size and vibe—what if he could do a jazz walk in one location?
“We called it the Shadbolt Jazz Walk the first year and I think that confused people,” Weeds laughs. Even though the name has since changed, the centrepoint of the event has remained firmly intact: with a constant rotation of performances, it’s all about musical discovery.
“If you find something you like and you want to stay [in one spot], great! But if you don't like the music or you’re really excited and want to hear something else happening at the same time, you can slip out,” Weeds explains. “The concept has never been, ‘you're gonna get to hear a full set of every single group.’”
While previous iterations of Jazz @ the Bolt largely showcased the Cellar Music Group’s roster, Weeds decided that this year, it was about time to take a fresh approach.
“I have a reputation in Vancouver for being the straight-ahead jazz guy, you know? I don't book any avant-garde or anything that's left-of-centre, it’s pretty much straight down the middle. And so I wanted to change that perception this year.”
There are plenty of well-known New Yorkers on the lineup including jazz pianist Miki Yamanaka, one of the most sought-after players in the city, and Lezlie Harrison, a singer (and radio host of New Jersey’s WBGO jazz station) who blurs lines between soul, blues, gospel, and jazz.
But the spotlight shines brightly on Vancouver artists.
Weeds teamed up with Tim Reinert of The Infidels—an infamous local podcast host, label owner, and planner—who leads an emerging artists series across the festival.
“I’m very excited about that,” Weeds says, “because there are a lot of really talented young musicians in Vancouver right now. It's a good time to be a jazz fan in the city.”
Local highlights on the Bolt bill also includes Boxcar, the blues project of the stylistically elastic guitarist Paul Pigat; Malleus Trio, a genre-bending improvisational outfit whose members are also active in Vancouver bands like the Boom Booms, Pugs & Crows, and Coco Jafro; and Raagaverse, a fusion quartet led by Shruti Ramani that combines modern jazz with poetry and Hindustani classical traditions.
“I wanted to expand the sound palette,” Weeds notes. “First of all, to appeal to a wider audience, but to be able to involve more people in the festival and in the festivities and to make it feel a little more inclusionary than maybe the other festivals have been. I don't want it to be the Cory Weeds Show, like, I'm only booking people that record for me.”
He continues: “And that's actually not what I ever wanted the perception to be—but, you know, I'm also in the business of selling records and it's me that's spearheading it and putting my money where my mouth is and trying to do it. So, although that's the case, I do feel some responsibility to make it inclusionary and to widen the scope a little bit and include more people, more young people, that are playing different music. So, I'm quite thrilled this year about the programming.”
Jazz @ the Bolt this year also puts a notable emphasis on female artists, with sets featuring award-winning bassist Jodi Proznick and JUNO-nominated vocalist and pianist Jennifer Scott.
Weeds adds: “We are very lucky to have so many talented musicians that have chosen to stay in this city and contribute to the fabric of the jazz scene here. It's important to make sure that we showcase them.”
It’s all part of what promises to be an exciting event that not only celebrates Vancouver’s thriving jazz community, but offers audiences a chance to discover something new—and perhaps even find their own defining musical moments that they’ll remember decades later.
Jazz @ the Bolt takes place on February 4 and 5 at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts. Tickets are available online now.