Jerry Gillotti has seen a lot over the last 45 years as the owner and operator of Gilly’s Jazz in Dayton. However, after suffering injuries from a beating during a robbery last year, he told us he may have to say goodbye.
Gillotti — who recently turned 80 — says his physical rehabilitation hasn’t progressed as quickly as he expected, and that’s kept him away from his beloved music nightspot.
That has the 2013 Dayton Walk of Fame inductee looking at all his options.
“I’ve had a couple of people interested, so I might sell or close the place if the rehab doesn’t work,” Gillotti said.
Jerry’s brother Tom Gillotti has been overseeing the day-to-day operations at Gilly’s in his absence, and the duo had hoped to commemorate 45 years — 40 of them being at 132 S. Jefferson St. — with a special show. Unfortunately, scheduling issues led to Jerry’s decision to recognize the milestone throughout July with the existing schedule instead.
“Traveling in the summer is tough because of all the festivals — unless we get someone real special,” he explained.
But Gillotti looks back fondly on coming up in an age when big band and blues music ruled the world, and he never thought it would turn into a business known far and wide for drawing internationally-renowned artists to Dayton.
“I never dreamed I could get that far,” Gillotti said. “I just thought if you had good sound, good lights and good drink, you could do something.”
Through the years, Gillotti has brought some of the biggest names in music, including Tony Bennett, BB King, Wynton Marsalis, Pieces of a Dream, Kim Walters, Allan Holdsworth, Marion Meadows, Walter Beasley, Stan Getz, Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton and Alex Bugnon to the area.
“When we started, nobody was doing it. (Eventually) people were coming from Indianapolis, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Detroit,” he said.
While remembering some of the acts to grace Gilly’s stage, Gillotti related the story of big band legend Woody Herman who, despite dealing with agonizing pain from a 1977 car accident and needing to be helped on stage, chose to continue performing one night in Dayton. It may have struck close to home for the local legend himself.
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“I said, ‘Why do you go up there if you’re not feeling good?’ ” Gillotti began. “He said, ‘It’s what I am.’”