Eight days a week?


Ben Champion playing saxaphone, and Joe Oddo, left, playing bass, perform at Leonardo's 706 with the Marty Liquori Jazztet.

ALEXANDER COHN/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 1:14 a.m.
It's jazz Thursday at Leonardo's 706, and 17-year-old Hunter Diamond is nervously picking at his slice of birthday cake as his alto sax rests on the seat beside him.
In front of him, a quintet of veteran musicians work their way through the classic "Lady is a Tramp." A nearly packed house tap their toes as they dine, applauding as the performers finish their solos.
In a moment, Hunter will get the ultimate birthday present for an aspiring jazz player: he'll make his debut on the Gainesville jazz stage and trade licks with the big boys.
Welcome to the club, kid. Now show us your chops.
It's another neon night in Gainesville's thriving world of be-bop and jazz. Thanks to a convergence of musical talent of all ages and backgrounds, Gainesville has, in recent years, developed a jazz culture that dwarfs larger cities like Orlando and rivals major metropolitan centers.
"I've gone to places like Columbus, Ohio, that have, like, one jazz gig a week, it's on Sunday, and it starts at 10 at night," says Marty Liquori, the former Olympic middle-distance runner turned jazz guitarist. "Here, you can almost go every night and see some jazz."
Much of the credit for that fact belongs to Liquori himself. After being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 48, he decided to pick up the guitar again, which he had given up as a teen-ager. He practiced for a year, then started playing at brunch at Leonardo's. Word spread, and as musicians found their way to the downtown bistro, the event evolved and expanded.
Today, Liquori oversees a network of musicians, from high school and college up-and-comers to retired professional band members who've migrated South. He puts together a lineup for shows each Monday and Thursday that have become a popular weekday attraction.
But Leonardo's is not the end of the line for Gainesville jazz. A number of other venues are establishing a following for the genre:
  • The Two-Bits Lounge at the Gainesville Hilton has regular performers three nights a week.
  • Maude's on the downtown square hosts jazz for the post-theater Hippodrome crowds on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Both the The Pontiac Grill and the Paramount Hotel and Conference Center have featured jazz vocalists who play regular sets.
  • Cafe Gardens, Emiliano's, The Brownstone Lodge and others have begun to book jazz acts.
    The overabundance of venues and the growing audiences have filtered out to area musicians, which has in turn lead to a healthy competition among performers, Liquori says.
    "Part of it is that lots of people can make a living as musicians, but not always playing jazz. So to get to play the music they want to play can be very attractive," he says.
    A number of factors are behind the deep pool of jazz talent in Gainesville. The University of Florida attracts people from around the globe, many of whom bring along talent and a love for the genre. The University of North Florida, just up the road in Jacksonville, has one of the top 10 jazz program in the country. Gainesville can be a nice stop for touring musicians playing larger cities in Florida. And, maybe most importantly, the Sunshine State is home to millions of retirees, with no shortage of ex-musicians looking for a gig.
    "The fact is, if you're 75, you can probably still play," says Liquori.
    One of those is Joe Oddo, 84, who plays bass with Liquori's band at Leonardo's. Oddo spent a lifetime playing at the bars, restaurants and clubs of Detroit, including leading the Joe Oddo Orchestra at the famed Menlo Supper Club for 10 years. He and his wife, vocalist Gwen, moved to Marion County last year, and word quickly spread up to Gainesville.
    "The music business is a small world," says Gwen Oddo. "Once you have a reputation, everybody knows the good players."
    Liquori says the wide age range among Gainesville musicians benefits everyone. Many of the experienced performers reach out to the younger players with guidance, and everybody must constantly get better in order to keep getting those calls to perform.
    Back at Leonardo's, young Hunter is ready for his debut. After the band plays a quick "Happy Birthday" for him, he straps on his sax and joins the group in a rendition of "Blue Bossa," on his request. Hunter and the night's featured player, Ben Champion, a renowned South Florida saxophonist who used to play regularly with Dizzy Gillespie, trade solos as Hunter's friends cheer him on. Then, to Hunter's surprise, they keep him around for a second song, "B'Dapadupa," an original by the band's keyboardist, John Chapman. Hunter holds his own.
    "To play with the big hitters in here, I couldn't ask for anything better on my birthday," he says.
    The "big hitters" play on, through three sets of jazz classics and originals, as they do every Monday and Thursday. And, lately, the room has been getting more and more crowded.
    "We've been really well-received here at Leonardo's," says Joe Oddo, sipping on a drink in between sets. "By all indications, we're going to be here for a while."

    A week in Gainesville jazz

    Want to hear jazz in the city? Here's a sampling of what's out there, day-by-day: Monday
  • Check out Marty Liquori and Friends, featuring a ever-changing lineup of performers, at Leonardo's 706, 706 W. University. Or head over to Emiliano's Cafe, 7 SE 1st Street, and hear the Brenda Bayne Quartet (first and third Mondays of the Month) or Taylor and Friends (second and fourth Mondays).
    Tuesday
  • Pull up a stool and listen to a set by Frank and Company, featuring pianist Frank Sullivan and others, at the Two Bit Lounge at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center, 1714 SW 34th St.
    Wednesday
  • Back to Emiliano's, this time to hear guitarist Karl Weismantel, with bassist Paul Creel. Or visit Cafe Gardens, 1643 NW 1st Ave., and take in a set by jazz vocalist Patricia Borzych and guitarist Taylor Roberts.
    Thursday
  • Marty Liquori and Friends are back in action at Leonardo's 706, as is Frank Sullivan at the Hilton, and the Brenda Bayne Quartet take the stage at the Paramount Hotel and Conference Center, 2900 SW 13th Street.
    Friday
  • Enjoying a night out on the Downtown Square? Head over to Maude's, 101 SE 2nd Place, sit outdoors and hear the music of Unsafe Sax or the Natalie Rella Quartet. And Frank and Company make things happen Fridays at the Hilton's Two Bits Lounge. Also hear live jazz from the Omi Ajamu Quartet and others at Pontiac Tavern on the Downtown Square, 232 SE 1st Street. Or, if you want to take a little drive, head north to High Springs, and hear the Alley Cats get jazzy at Trombone Charley's, 25 NE 1st Ave.
    Saturday
  • Maude's cranks up its late night jazz once again, and Trombone Charlie's in High Springs also regularly features live jazz on Saturday nights.
    Also
  • The Gainesville Friends of Jazz and Blues brings regularly brings in nationally known jazz acts for concerts at Savannah Grande Reception Hall, 301 N. Main Street. Next up: The Kenny Drew Trio from Tampa, Feb. 20 at 8 p.m. Call 379-0300.
  • TC's High Class Smoke-Free Jazz and Funk Club intermittently hosts charity events featuring jazz artists, including Gruv Therapy. They'll play Saturday at Gainesville Country Club at 7300 SW 35th Way. Check out tcsmokefree.com.
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