Cellar Live Records: The Finest in Live Jazz Recordings

Mike Oppenheim By

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Cellar Live Records is a contemporary jazz label located in Vancouver, British Columbia. Jazz saxophonist and producer Cory Weeds founded the label in 2001, one year after purchasing The Cellar Restaurant and Jazz Club (later renamed Cory Weeds' Jazz Cellar). Since that time, Cellar Live Records has released over seventy albums.

Performers at Cory Weeds' Jazz Cellar are some of the most important names in Canadian jazz, as well as major international artists. These include Joey DeFrancesco, Kenny Barron, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Benny Golson, to name just a few. Owing both to the visiting artists and local Vancouver talent, the club was named in the Top 100 Jazz Clubs Worldwide by Downbeat on several occasions.

Cellar Live Records documents many of the seminal performances occuring at the club. Cellar Live releases are often, but not exclusively, recordings from concert events at the Jazz Cellar venue. Additional releases include recordings from other venues and studio sessions. With a steadily growing catalogue and distribution worldwide, Cellar Live Records contributes significantly to the availability of high quality music from established artists and emerging talent from all genres and varieties of jazz.

All About Jazz: Tell us about yourself and the Jazz Cellar.

Cory Weeds: I was born and raised in Vancouver (Burnaby actually) and, other than a lot of touring and a year at The University Of North Texas, I have lived here all my life. I guess I started appearing on the scene around 1996. The Jazz Cellar is a jazz club at 3611 West Broadway that I bought in 2000. I changed the name to Cory Weeds' Cellar Jazz Club in 2009. Unfortunately, the club will be closing on February 26, 2014.

AAJ: What factors contributed to closing the club? Will the label be affected by these same factors?

CW: The label will continue to run regardless of the club closing. As for the factors of the club closing, it had a lot to do with personal choice. Our landlord had become difficult. I am very tired of the food and beverage side of the industry, and am very tired in general after 13.5 years in the business.

AAJ: How did Cory Weeds' Cellar Jazz Club come to be and who was involved?

CW: Originally it was just myself as the sole owner with some help from my dad. Over time we had an additional five investors, three of which have been bought out. There are three remaining investors, including me.

It came about in 2000 because I was tired of not being able to hear quality jazz music in a listener friendly environment. There were clubs but not 'real' clubs. I thought that I had enough of a business sense and trust in the musicians to make it work. We didn't really have a dedicated jazz club in Vancouver, hence my desire to open one. Before my ownership The Cellar had jazz but was far from dedicated.

AAJ: What were you doing prior to buying the Cellar?

CW: Before buying the Cellar I was working at Prussin Music as a teacher and a high school music program liaison (for instrument repair and sales), and playing music.

AAJ: How did it go from jazz club to record label?

CW: The label started more as a lark than anything else. I'm big on documenting things and I honestly thought the club would be somewhat short lived, so I wanted to document every moment.

I assembled some recording gear, enlisted the help of some local engineers and, after a year of operation, we had assembled hundreds of tapes. With the help of then Vancouver jazz label Maximum Jazz we released Live @ The Cellar, a compilation of the best performances. I got a huge rush out of producing this recording. It was very exciting.

I asked Maximum Jazz if they would be interested in starting an imprint called Cellar Live and they were not, so Cellar Live was born.

I had a line of credit that had about $10,000 on it so I used that money (not all of it) to produce The Ross Taggart Quartet. Thankfully. Again it was such a huge rush and I enjoyed the whole process so much I thought I could maybe use the money from the sale of that recording to do another.

Before I knew it, I had a Canadian Youth Business Foundation loan and the catalogue was growing by the minute. A few trips to MIDEM in France resulted in some distribution deals in Japan, the US and we were all of a sudden a full on record label. Now, with over 80 titles in our catalogue, the label appears to be thriving and doing better than it ever has.

AAJ: Did you have production experience prior to releasing that first compilation?

CW: Not really other than a few co-led records with my band Crash, but my friend and co-leader Jerry Cook kind of handled most of the production of those recordings.

AAJ: How do you find artists to record and release? Are they exclusive to the Cellar Live label?

CW: We do not have exclusive deals with artists. In general, I reach out to them and ask if I can record. However, there have been many that have come to me and said "we should record." Dr. Lonnie Smith and David Newman, for example, asked me!

AAJ: Are the musicians specifically Canadian or local Vancouverites?

CW: We have released many recordings of all Vancouverites, Canadians, international superstars with Vancouverites as well as international jazz stars and their own bands. Some [are recorded] live at The Cellar, some done live in New York, some in studios, etc.

AAJ: There seems to be a good balance between established older artists and younger generation artists.

CW: I agree but it is not by design.

AAJ: How does Cellar Live release recordings from other jazz clubs and archival recordings?

CW: Usually the musicians are bringing the music to me. Many clubs now, such as Smalls and Smoke Jazz Club in New York have their own labels. That is making it hard to release recordings done there, but it's not impossible. My album Let's Go was recorded at Smoke last year and we're doing a date with a young trumpet player named Josh Bruneau later this year at Smalls.

AAJ: How does the label distribute its music?

CW: We have distribution in Canada and worldwide by Planetworks Distribution, Japan by Gats Productions and in the US by Distribution 13. We also sell through all the digital platforms, as well as our own website.

AAJ: Are most album sales in Canada or is there a significant international market for Cellar Live recordings?

CW: It's more international than Canadian, without question.

AAJ: How is the label responding to digital distribution? Are all current releases available as physical CDs and will previous releases be digitized?

CW: All of our titles are available digitally and many of our titles are no longer available physically. It's just not cost effective to repress many of the CDs that have run out.

AAJ: Is it fair to call Cellar Live a Vancouver-centric jazz label?

CW: I think it's too limiting. In the same way, it's limiting to say that we only do live recordings. I record and release what I'm passionate about and what is good music regardless of where it's from. Also, it has to have some salability.
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