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Ohio Club Gilly’s Celebrates 30 Years

The enduring jazz and blues nightclub Gilly’s in Dayton, Ohio celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Gilly’s owner Jerry Gillotti (pictured) gained an interest in jazz in the army from a fellow soldier who bunked next to him while stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. After taking in the music of jazz clubs in Germany, Gillotti returned to the States in 1958 and started searching for local jazz, eventually deciding to open a jazz club.

Gillotti believed whole-heartedly that his town needed a little jazz. “You know if you do it right, present it right, then it’ll work,” says Gillotti. It definitely did. Gilly’s has renewed the lease on its space for another five years, and the town of Dayton couldn’t be happier.

Even though the club is overshadowed by its location in the birthplace of the Wright Brothers and the airplane, Gilly’s does attract out-of-state visitors every now and then with its billings. “A guy came from Nashville to see a guy called Scott Henderson. I didn’t think anybody really knew who Scott Henderson was,” says Gilloitti.

Before Gilly’s, Gillotti bought the Wedgwood Inn in Dayton and brought artists in to perform there and two years later leased a building exclusively to start a jazz club. He finally moved to the spot Gilly’s has called home for 30 years on 132 S. Jefferson St. in downtown Dayton in 1977. “There’s no bad seats,” Gillotti says of the 250-seat venue. “We’ve got good seating, good views of the stage, a top-quality sound system and there’s free parking with validation for guests.”

To celebrate the anniversary, a long list of artists were invited to perform at Gilly’s, among them Roy Meriwether, one of the first performers at Gillotti’s nightclub. Other anniversary artists included Peter Erskine and his trio, the Lounge Art Ensemble, Walter Beasley and blues-rock artist Bernard Allison, among others.

Always a trendsetting venue, Gilly’s became the first club in Dayton to ban smoking in 2004. “I just couldn’t take the secondhand smoke anymore. I had heart surgery in 1999 and I should have done it then, but you know you don’t want to risk losing business,” says Gillotti. Even with dissatisfied smokers and the bad wishes of other club owners, Gilly’s business didn’t go anywhere and even gained the audience that was deterred from attending clubs because of the smoke. In 2006 Ohio followed the club’s lead and banned smoking in clubs statewide.

Gillotti loves the laidback, music-loving atmosphere of his club and tries to keep the jazz artists coming. “We had all the big-bands back [in the early days of the club]; we didn’t have Miles and we didn’t have Dizzy, but we had everybody else,” says Gillotti. “I’ve been doing this for 37 years and it’s been interesting to listen to new artists and see where everything’s going.”

Originally Published