Facing closure, Hermann’s Jazz Club hopes to keep the music playing

Culture Music
Hermann's Jazz Club has been a Victoria institution for 35 years, but it's now under threat of closure. Photo by Myles Sauer, Editor-in-Chief
Hermann’s Jazz Club has been a Victoria institution for 35 years, but it’s now under threat of closure.
Photo by Myles Sauer, Editor-in-Chief

With the 100th anniversary of the first jazz record ever produced just weeks behind us, Victoria is pushing to resurrect Hermann’s Jazz Club — a local hub for jazz music that has served the city for 35 years. Hermann’s is Canada’s longest-running jazz club, with live music played seven days a week, year-round.

Nichola Walkden, manager of the establishment and long-time employee, refers to the original owner and namesake, the late Hermann Nieweler, as the “original benefactor . . . [who] gave a gift to this city.”

Following Nieweler’s death in 2015, the once-subsidized club was passed on to his children. “But they aren’t Hermann,” says Walkden. The building was put up for sale shortly thereafter.

Victoria’s non-profit community group Jazz on View has offered to buy the building, but needs to raise approximately $3 million in the coming months, despite a highly successful benefit concert held last month and several verbal financial pledges made thus far.

Club provides cultural hub

As an all-ages jazz club with competitive student rates, Hermann’s is an intergenerational meeting place for art and culture, a home for the local, regional, and international music community.

Generations of celebrated artists have performed at Hermann’s over the years, from Canadian household names like Michael Buble and Diana Krall, to neo-traditionalist trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, as well as regular performances by the Tom Vickery trio and Dixieland Express.

Dr. Patrick Boyle, associate professor of Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Studies at the University of Victoria and regular performer at Hermann’s, describes the club as “a place like no other.”

“There’s lot of history in the walls,” says Boyle. “Thinking about all the other people who’ve played there, it makes you feel a part of something.”

Hermann’s, above all else, is a “listening room . . . with a proper grand piano, an actual dance floor . . . a clientele that listens to the music — including regulars who’ve been coming weekly for just about as long as it’s been open,” says Boyle. “It’s designed for music.”

According to Walkden, the disappearance of music venues across North America and Europe is a worrisome trend, and “the fundraising timeline that we present will take a lot of faith on the part of the family in our ability.”

If purchasing the building is successful, “the charitable return on investment will be in the area of 15 per cent, more than double what is realized by traditional endowments in the Victoria or Vancouver Foundations,” says Walkden.

A less jazzed music scene

At a time when pursuing music at the postsecondary level is frequently considered ‘useless’ or lacking in career opportunities upon graduation, Hermann’s is one of the few places in Victoria that allows regular access to live music — a multi-layered exchange between musicians at all levels.

When it comes to fostering interest in younger people, Boyle explains that these days, you “[have] to go towards it . . . jazz clubs don’t come and go, they just go.” Exposing future generations to jazz relies on having venues such as Hermann’s for youth to attend.

Left untreated, a decline in jazz most certainly has the potential to drastically affect the arts scene on a global scale. The solution, however, may simply be to “go towards it,” just like Boyle says.

Hermann’s features live music seven nights a week. For upcoming events, please visit www.hermannsjazz.com