Jazz fans bid farewell to Hermann's owner

Admirers and music lovers gathered Sunday to celebrate the life of Victoria’s Hermann Nieweler, a German immigrant whose name became globally known among jazz lovers.

Hermann’s Jazz Club, a 29-year fixture at 753 View St., was packed with fans, musicians and music lovers. They were there to honour Nieweler’s memory, his enduring love of jazz and his tireless support for music and musicians in Victoria.

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During its 34-year history, Hermann’s has hosted some of the biggest names in jazz, including neo-traditionalist trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and avant-garde trumpeter Kenny Wheeler.

But the club was also unique in jazz circles for never leaving traditional jazz and Dixieland far behind.

“Throughout the world, Hermann’s is considered almost a heritage site for jazz lovers,” said William Stewart, sound man at the club.

Hermann Nieweler died on Wednesday in Vancouver after a short illness. He was 79. His wife, Gertrude, died two years ago. He leaves three grown children, Edward, Ingrid and Stephan, and four grandchildren.

A finishing carpenter by trade, Nieweler arrived in Canada from Germany at the age of 22. He made his way to Victoria, where he eventually became a general contractor. It was a little blip in his business career that launched him into jazz and club ownership.

Son Stephan said his father was hired as a contractor to complete the renovation of the Bastion Inn, now the Bedford Regency. But the Bastion’s owners went bankrupt before the renovation job was over and Nieweler founod himself the owner.

A jazz band was in town and needed hotel rooms, preferably for free, so Nieweler agreed to let the musicians stay at the Bastion Inn. In return, he asked that they play at the hotel bar.

That was in 1981, and Hermann’s Jazz Club, in its first location, was born. In 1986, it moved to View Street, where it has remained ever since.

Throughout its life, Hermann’s has offered a regular and valued gig for local musicians. But it also plays host to high-school jazz musicians anxious to earn their chops in a real club.

Stephan said his father loved the music. But just as much, he loved the people who came to listen and enjoy it.

“I think Hermann loved people and he really used this place to bring people together,” he said on Sunday.

Before her set on Sunday at Hermann’s, Victoria pianist Toni Blodgett said the jazz community owes a huge debt to Nieweler and his club.

Blodgett said she has known other communities where jazz lovers must form little societies and book gigs at rented Legion halls.

While travelling and playing festivals and gigs outside Victoria, she said, she has often been asked if she belonged to a jazz society at home.

“And I could always just answer: ‘No. We have Hermann’s,’ ” said Blodgett.

Tom Vickery, also a pianist but with a career that included being band leader at Royal Roads Military College, said he had lost a friend with whom he shared many a bratwurst.

But Vickery said Victoria has also lost something with Nieweler’s death: a friend of music and musicians, whose enthusiasm and generosity will be sorely missed.

“He certainly kept the flame alive,” Vickery said before playing Sunday at Hermann’s. “For anybody to keep a jazz club going for 34 years is an achievement in any city anywhere.”

Vickery said he could recall Nieweler saying often: “We have to keep it happening.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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