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Holding the Note

Java Jazz Café and Bistro owner Salve Dayao may be singing the blues about Vancouver's dwindling music scene, but she isn't going away anytime soon. Dayao recalls the golden years of her career as a performer.

It is 11 o’clock on a Friday night, and New Westminster, B.C. is a ghost town in the cold autumn air. Outside, a neon sign flashes the words ‘Live Vocal Jazz’ in fluorescent purple. Stepping inside the doors of Java Jazz Café and Bistro feels like a trip into the orange light of a 1920s speakeasy; like falling into a film strip from the movie Casablanca.

Gathered around the tables, a proverbial sea of jazz enthusiasts speak softly and tap their feet as the smooth sound of the saxophone reverberates throughout the room. The matriarch of the house, a small woman clad in black and wrapped in a leopard print boa, floats from table to table. Her smile is broad. Her eyes and hair, a deep copper, shine in the snug glow of the candlelight.

A New Life

During the mid-1970s, Salve Dayao and her husband, Ed, left their home in the Philippines to begin a new life travelling the world. “Ever since I was a little girl my dream was to be a singer and to go abroad,” says Dayao, who has now travelled to 19 different countries.

After settling in Vancouver, the Dayaos began performing at Trader Vic’s, a prestigious restaurant at the Westin Bayshore hotel, and became their longest running in-house entertainment.

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Dayao awaits her cue while her husband Ed prepares the music for their performance.

When I was singing I would see in front of me Sean Connery, Billy Joel, Ringo Starr.

It was there that they made a name for themselves in Vancouver’s music and performance community. “When I was singing I would see in front of me Sean Connery, Billy Joel, Ringo Star,” Dayao says with an air of nostalgia. “It’s not like I’m name-dropping, these were just the sorts of people who were there.”

Starting A New Business

In 1990 the Dayaos started a Filipino music and dance academy in New Westminster, which they ran out of their home. “We called it Ed and Salve’s Music Studio. I’m a voice coach; my husband teaches bass and drums. Prior to opening Java Jazz I had 78 students, but owning a restaurant was always a dream of ours. I wanted to do it before we hit 50.”

The Dayaos have had their share of ups and downs. “In the first four years of the business we had lineups out the door. It was always full, but the new liquor laws have been hurting everyone.”

Live Music Venues In Vancouver Are Changing

Times are changing for live music venues and performers all over Vancouver. It seems everywhere you go there are venues closing or shifting their emphasis away from live music. The Waldorf, one of Vancouver’s most well-established live music venues, closed this past January to make way for a new condominium development. Joining it are numerous other venues across the city that have either shut their doors or changed their focus. High real estate prices and strict liquor laws have been the major culprit, closing down bars all across Vancouver and earning it the reputation of ‘no-fun city.’

Dayao finds it difficult to see young musicians struggling to find work. “Here, the music scene is dead and dying. I feel bad for my colleagues because there is nowhere in the city they can perform that will pay.”

Java Jazz recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. The business is hard to keep afloat, but it has stood the test of time, hiring local artists to sing, play, and do what they love for over a decade. Java Jazz is open six days a week with live music every night.