Blue Bamboo Center For the Arts
Winter Park's newest performing arts center.
Guitarist Chris Cortez and saxophone player Mark Piszczek met in the 1980s, performing at onetime Church Street hotspot Daisy’s Basement, when live jazz was a draw for downtown audiences.
“We played four or five times a week,” Piszczek says. “Always original music, and we packed the place.”
Daisy’s closed in 1983, and while rumors of new jazz venues flew in the ensuing years, nothing happened until Piszczek and Cortez, after exploring opportunities in other parts of the country, returned to Orlando.
They opened Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts this past July, nestled in what is being called the SOFA district (South On Fairbanks Avenue). With 4 Rivers Smokehouse, the new Lombardi’s Seafood and several small recording studios in close proximity, traffic—and attention—is starting to come to this stretch of Winter Park.
In an extensively renovated space that once housed a woodworking shop and a granite supply company, Blue Bamboo is a 4,000 square-foot room large enough for big band jazz and chamber orchestras.
“There is insanely good music in this town,” Piszczek says. The opening concert with the Orlando Jazz Orchestra was sold out. “You couldn’t have found a better big band performance anywhere on Earth.”
Blue Bamboo Center
Piszczek writes for jazz and classical ensembles and orchestras. He leads the jazz and avant-garde group Strange Angels, which features some of the best players in town. Guitarist/vocalist Cortez and his assorted bands—including The New Thing, and Chris Cortez and Friends—play what he calls “hot eclectic jazz,” and he operates the Blue Bamboo record label, which he started in 1986. Painter Melody Cortez, Chris’ wife, is director of operations and the voice you hear when the phone is answered.
“I need a place to play, simple as that,” Chris Cortez says. “Blue Bamboo is part altruistic, part selfish.”
The range of events at Blue Bamboo have included appearances by guitar legend Larry Coryell and New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton, the Lakewood Chamber Players and concerts from the Accidental Music Festival. Local jazz giants such as Daniel Jordan and Dave Pate get to play their own music to appreciative and sometimes awestruck audiences.
“We sank our retirement next egg into this space,” says Cortez. “It’s an emotional investment. We took the leap.”
— JOSEPH HAYES