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Victoria's Landmark Jazz Club Faces an Uncertain Future

Robin Lloyd takes the stage at Hermann's Jazz Club during their Save KPLU fundraiser, May 2016
Brenda Goldstein-Young
Robin Lloyd (in purple) takes the stage at Hermann's Jazz Club during their Save KPLU fundraiser, May 2016

As Canada’s longest continuously operating jazz club, Hermann’s Jazz Club in Victoria BC has held an important position in the West Coast jazz scene for 37 years. 

It’s been a source of work, a laboratory for experimentation, and a friendly hang-out for local musicians.  It’s also an education center for jazz students, who can listen, learn and participate with professionals.  And it’s an intimate venue for visiting national and international jazz acts.

Since the death of the club’s founder Hermann Nieweler in 2015, the future of this community resource has been uncertain.  Now there’s an urgent effort to save Hermann’s Jazz Club.

The Jazz on View Society has secured the right of first refusal to purchase the building at 753 View Street that houses Hermann's (and a few other businesses) from the family members who inherited it.  The building must be sold; there is still a hefty mortgage in place that the family has been making payments on since Mr. Nieweler's death.  Jazz on View needs to raise the $3 million purchase price, or be able to show that the money is pledged, by October 31, 2017.

Until then, Jazz on View must also meet monthly deadlines to increase their non-refundable deposit until it reaches $32,000, by September 30.  They’ve set up a gofundme campaign for that deposit.  Fundraising events and information sessions are ongoing to collect pledges toward the building's purchase price, and different investment options are being explored.

Hermann Nieweler in his jazz club, 2011
Hermann Nieweler in his jazz club, 2011

Recently, one of the inheritors decided to move into the building and live there, even though the commercial building contains no living quarters, and that type of occupation is not allowed according to city codes.  Acting as manager of the jazz club,  she has fired or induced some of the long-term staff to quit.  She’s also changed the menu, re-painted, and removed the collection of musical memorabilia and kitschy décor that Hermann’s was known for.

That situation has made it difficult for Jazz on View to hold meetings and fundraising events in the club, and it muddies and confuses the public's perception of the status of the campaign.

Bill Turner from the Jazz on View Society explains, “We started the Jazz on View Society in the fall of last year with the goal of preserving the jazz club, keeping it going in a sustainable way forever as a community asset, which it is to this community and to the jazz community across the Pacific Northwest.” 

He notes that the expected population growth in Victoria makes it all the more important to retain performance spaces, for jazz and for all the performing arts. 

“Purchasing the whole building will protect the jazz club, and that’s our main focus.  But we’ve also discovered what a great asset the whole building actually is.  The second floor has been a public performance space since it was built.  We have been talking to all parts of the performing arts community in Victoria about the potential for it to become a shared, cooperative, collaborative public performance, practice and rehearsal space.  It can seat 400 to 500 people in the theater part.  It could function for theater groups, dance groups, and larger musical groups than we can host downstairs in Hermann’s.  There’s a lot more potential there, and a lot more we could do,” Turner says.

“Losing Hermann's would be a huge loss for Victoria, and it would have far-reaching effects across Canada, too,” says Darryl Mar, Executive and Artistic Director of the Victoria Jazz Society.  “Hermann’s is a live music venue that is primarily focused on jazz.  If another one of these goes down, the whole community suffers; the audience, the local jazz players, the touring artists and the Victoria Jazz Society, because it’s an instrumental part of our festival and year-round presentations.”

Learn more about the Jazz on View Society's campaign to save Hermann's Jazz Club: Jazz on View Society, Go Fund Me Hermann's.

Here's trombonist Nick LaRiviere's eloquent description of the importance of Hermann's Jazz Club to musicians of all ages:

Robin Lloyd hosts Mid Day Jazz and Jazz Caliente on KNKX-FM.  She is a member of the Jazz Education Network, and currently serves on the board of the Jazz Journalists Association.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.