Handling Musical Genres Like Gold
Curating a live music experience for audiences and musicians alike, Maureen’s Jazz Cellar strives to adapt to what’s playing each night
Maureen’s Jazz Cellar in Nyack is a live music gem owned and operated by couple David Budway and Brianne Higgins. The venue has become a haven for jazz fans in the region and is an integral part of the community.
David, who is an accomplished musician and performer, opened the club shortly after his sister Maureen’s untimely passing in 2015. Brianne is an actor and director, and the mastermind behind the creation of the venue. David spoke with me about the club’s history and Brianne’s incredible skill in transforming the “ugliest place you’ve ever seen” into a beautiful listening room.
Given Maureen’s Jazz Cellar’s six-year history, many music fans are already familiar with your venue, but many of us want to know its origins.
“I’ve been making music my whole life, and losing my favorite musician and one of my closest friends, my sister Maureen, had a horrible effect on me. The intimacy we shared musically was like we were like one person. It’s a labor of love. That’s what this place is about.”
You said that Brianne brought this idea to you — at the time you were performing in New York City. How did it change your music career?
“My trio had a residency at The Carlyle. [Maureen] passed when I was doing that. It was my wife’s idea to build something and name it after her. Brianne is a great actor and comedian who inherited the gift of carpentry from her father. She was tired of building sets for plays that were torn down, and wanted to build something lasting. We signed a lease and came to this place… it was the ugliest room I’ve ever seen. I was thinking that there was no way this could be a music place. We got the key, lit some sage, and said some prayers. Brianne transformed the place.”
“We treat each individual music genre like gold, like it should be presented.” – David Budway
When you opened you thought you’d present jazz exclusively, no?
“No! Because we love so many things including, The Grateful Dead — our first date was a Grateful Dead concert. We wanted to do jazz, comedy, and other things. Many of the people who come to Dead nights don’t come to jazz nights. They wouldn’t believe what it’s like on a jazz night. For Dead nights, we clear the tables for dancing, there’s tie-dye, and it’s loud! For the jazz shows, we put out the tables, it’s quiet, and we don’t allow people to talk. We treat each individual music genre like gold, like it should be presented.
One thing I really want to go on record saying is, through the pandemic, the Deadheads really stepped up. They came here and sold hot chocolate and merch, coming up with new ways for us to survive.”
I see that you also present programs for the community.
“Rockland has a big PRIDE-LGBTQ community. We honor this community and allow people to do shows here once a month. The proceeds go to the Rockland Pride Center. The Rockland Youth Jazz Ensemble rehearses here on Mondays and local piano students do recitals. Our Tuesday Open Mic is one-night fits all. Jazz, songwriters, little kids — perform in a listening environment.”
How did the evenings at the Piano Bar start?
“That started during the pandemic. We started doing this thing on Facebook, singing some songs. I’d look to see who was watching and take requests. The audience loved it and would Venmo us. When we reopened, Brianne suggested we keep the Piano Bar going.
There’s a whole different audience for Saturday Piano Bar nights. People who don’t want to pay a cover and be quiet for a jazz show can get rowdy, drink, and sing along like it’s a party.”
Think you have the right combination and understand what your audience wants?
“Yes, definitely! But it’s a ton of work! Brianne and I did the math. We put on 300 plus shows a year, all different genres.”
As far as Maureen’s Jazz Cellar goes, according to David, the future is bright, but not exactly back to normal. “Thankfully we entertain many different audiences. It comes from the love of music, the love of Maureen, and LUCK!”
2 N. Broadway, Nyack, NY 10960
Elisa Zuckerberg is the founder of HearItThere.com, an online resource for live music events in Hudson Valley and Fairfield County.