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Group makes bid to preserve historic Hermann’s Jazz Club

A Victoria community group says it has made an offer to buy Hermann’s Jazz Club in hopes of keeping the landmark venue open. The nightclub at 753 View St., as well as the former Yuk Yuk’s comedy club above and a bar next door, is for sale.
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Hermann's Jazz Club owner Hermann Nieweler, foreground, outside the club in 2009. Nieweler died in 2015 and left the club to his children. The past few weeks have seen the departure of several longtime staff, including the club's manager.

A Victoria community group says it has made an offer to buy Hermann’s Jazz Club in hopes of keeping the landmark venue open.

The nightclub at 753 View St., as well as the former Yuk Yuk’s comedy club above and a bar next door, is for sale.

Jazz on View, a new non-profit community group, has offered to buy the building, said Nichola Walkden, manager of Hermann’s Jazz Club. She said Jazz on View’s offer — which has not been accepted — is a multi-million-dollar offer based on having seven months to raise the cash.

She said there is considerable support for Jazz on View, noting that a benefit concert Monday raised more than $80,000 in verbal pledges. “Someone made a public $20,000 pledge. I got lots of pledges of support,” Walkden said, adding that the $100-a-ticket event sold out.

One of Canada’s best-known jazz venues, Hermann’s Jazz Club was founded by Hermann Nieweler, who died in 2015 at age 79. His family inherited the brick building housing the club. “The weight of [running this club] isn’t for Hermann’s children to bear. We’ve asked for the opportunity to see if the community will respond,” Walkden said.

She said Hermann’s Jazz Club, which moved to its current location in 1986, is the longest continuously running jazz club in Canada. It has hosted performances by such jazz artists as Wynton Marsalis, Diana Krall, Michael Bublé, Kenny Wheeler and Renee Rosnes.

Building co-owner Stephan Nieweler, one of Hermann’s children, said he encourages the Victoria music community’s efforts to support of the club. However, he has yet to decide about the club or the View Street building.

“I have not been directly engaged by any group for a respectful conversation about my interests and feelings pertaining to these assets; therefore, any speculation regarding a potential sale of the jazz club and/or building to this group, or any other, is premature,” he said Wednesday in an email.

A registered society, Jazz on View’s board includes Walkden, musician Kelby MacNayr and land conservationist Bill Turner. The group’s primary aim is to keep Hermann’s alive as an all-ages music venue with an emphasis on jazz. “If we were able to own the whole building, we could run it as a foundation. We could generate money that we could put back into the arts,” MacNayr said.

Walkden said Hermann Nieweler had to subsidize the club, which for him was a labour of love. After he died, Hermann’s Jazz Club was sustained partly by revenues from Yuk Yuk’s. However, the comedy club closed its doors in November after five months.

Trumpeter Patrick Boyle, an associate professor of jazz studies at the University of Victoria, said Hermann’s has a unique place in Victoria, acting as “both sanctuary and laboratory” for improvising musicians. “Hermann’s Jazz Club is among the most important institutions worldwide that support and sustains jazz music,” wrote Boyle, in an email requesting support for Jazz on View.

In an interview, he added: “The scene that it’s created has existed for a long, long time. Scenes need a long time to gestate. And live music is hurting badly in this town.”

Others who have written letters of support include pianist Karel Roessingh, bassist Neil Swainson, singer Alex Pangman and guitarist Michael Occhipinti.

Uncertainty about Hermann’s follows the announced closing of another Victoria music venue, the Tally Ho Sport Bar & Grill.

achamberlain@timescolonist.com