Jazz Club has been making music in Vernon for years

A jazzy place to be

Vernon has a healthy, but somewhat underground, jazz scene. Not literally underground, of course.

In fact, the Vernon Jazz Club sits proudly overlooking Vernon’s 30thAvenue in the upper floor of a heritage building that also houses Nolan’s Pharmasave.

The building was built in 1906 and used as a sales outlet for farm machinery. In 1910, the Ranchers’ Club, described as a “family social club” with male and female members, took over the second floor. A few years later, the bottom floor was purchased by R.E. Berry and converted to a drugstore. Meanwhile, the Ranchers’ Club was starting to lose their family-friendly reputation. In 1919, the club’s steward was fired for hosting all-night card games with unrestricted stakes.

A few years later, in 1922, the group was reorganized as the Vernon Club for men only, and a peephole was installed in the door to screen those entering.

It is even reported the RCMP set up surveillance in the building across the street to determine what kind of card games were being played. The Vernon Club lasted until 2001.

A few years before the club folded, Tom Collins, a former HVAC technician, Curt Latham, a doctor, and Gerry Sholomenko, a secondary school teacher - all jazz lovers - met over coffee to discuss the organization of a venue where the music “wasn’t too loud, couples could have a dance or two, and local jazz musicians would have a stage.”

Thus, the Vernon Jazz Society was born.

The society’s first gig, performed by the Larry Crawford Jazz Ensemble, was held on Sept. 11, 1999 in the basement of the Sandman Inn. Drinks and chairs were hauled into the venue, which seated about 60 at tables around a small dance floor.

Despite an awkward moment when the owner of Bean Scene, where the tickets for the evening had been sold, was turned away at the door, the performance was a success and inspired a greater public interest in Vernon’s jazz scene.

The club began to rent the current building from the Vernon Club in November of 1999 after the basement of the Sandman Inn was flooded by a burst pipe.

They made a few changes to the venue, such as constructing a raised stage with curtains and adding performance lighting and a sound system. After the folding of the Vernon Club, the Jazz Society began fully paying the modest rental fee to use the building.

Since then, the society has hosted a number of local and travelling jazz musicians, such as Brandi Disterheft, The Tom Collins Quartet and Sherman “Tank” Doucette, to name but a few.

There have also been several sessions where young and mature musicians alike are invited to come out and “jam.” While the Jazz Club has been closed since March, with such a passionate group of music lovers at its helm, it’s sure to continue bringing jazz to Vernon for many more years.

Gwyneth Evans is community engagement co-ordinator with the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives.

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