The House of Jazz
On Monday nights at the Grand Bohemian, acclaimed jazz musicians show up and play for the love of their art.
The Grand Bohemian Hotel is known as the place to see visiting glitterati: The landmark across from Orlando City Hall plays host to visiting NBA teams and also attracts A-list politicians, entertainers and celebrities.
While the hotel’s sophisto vibe—its corridors are hung with contemporary art—is an attraction on its own, there’s another big draw: The Bösendorfer Lounge’s Monday Jazz Jam is an amazing weekly confluence of local and national jazz musicians. The urban cool crowd mixes 30-something young Turks in trendy casual gear with gray-haired power players. They gather early, at 7 p.m., vying for seats nearest the performers. The bar goes from late-afternoon-lazy to Saturday-night-crazy in minutes as the musicians dial in their sound and get ready to kick it off at 8.
And they do kick it. Hard. The musicianship is so sharp, the phrasing and delivery so deft, that even listeners who are just there to have a drink bob their heads and play
Orlando has a vibrant jazz scene, and these Monday night jams are its epicenter. For decades, steady work at the theme parks attracted musicians to live here. Two jazz greats who emigrated to Orlando were Sam Rivers and LeRoy Cooper. The saxophone legends played with Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles. Right behind Rivers and Cooper, both of who passed away recently, came an impressive coterie of players with international credits of their own.
Pianist Billy Hall started the jam in 2008 and moved it to the Grand Bohemian in 2009. He and saxophonist Don Black were the magnets that drew performers like Cooper, trumpeter Dr. Otto Gomez, pianist Joseph Jevanni and Orlando’s reigning Queen of Jazz, Miss Jacqueline Jones. Hall passed away in November 2009, but the jazz jams have only gotten bigger.
“It’s become an artistic enclave,” smiles Wes Hamrick, the Grand Bohemian’s director of entertainment and himself a formidable pianist.
The community has benefited too: “The musicians play for free, and the money they raise [from tips] goes to charities,” says Yvonne Coleman, who’s well-known in local jazz circles as a former on-air personality at smooth jazz station WLOQ-FM. Coleman now organizes and emcees the sessions. “You never know who’s going to show up.”
Recent A-list guests include LeBron James, director Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa, Tootsie), longtime Oprah Winfrey companion Stedman Graham and jazz greats Larry Coryell and Earl Klugh.
“We had [noted jazz pianist] Edward Simon,” Hamrick says. “In New York, it’s $100 just to get in the door to hear him.”
At the Grand Bohemian, it’s all part of the vibe on another jazzed-up Monday night.
Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, 325 S. Orange Ave., 407-313-9000; grandbohemianhotel.com. There is no cover charge to attend The Bösendorfer Lounge’s Monday Jazz Jam.