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Artist Profiles

Charlie O the Jazz Man

By Published: December 21, 2008

Charlie O was a true jazz aficionado. He was encouraging to all the cats and he kept a jazz haven where all the cats could work-out. He gave us a place to work and play. He was special. He was a special jazz cat. —Jack Sheldon

Charlie Ottaviano's biggest passion in life was jazz. He always dreamed of opening a jazz club and he did just that in August 2000, little by little converting the small neighborhood establishment into a real jazz venue. He started small with music one night a week with John Heard and Earl Palmer performing and soon it grew to live jazz seven nights a week. The club became very successful and there have been thousands of nights of music and all of Los Angeles' finest jazz musicians performing there together with some of the best jazz musicians from all over the world. The club has thousands of fans from California and the world over.

Born the middle son of Marino and Tillie Ottaviano in Batavia, New York, on January 3, 1942, he grew up on a farm in Oakfield, New York with his parents and two brothers, Tony and John. It was a musical family and their Dad taught them all about music, each played an instrument or two. Charlie was an extraordinary man, always having a big smile and a warm welcome for everyone. He had a big heart, a great sense of humor, an infectious laugh and always a funny story to tell about the plentiful antics in his life.

Charlie met the love of his life in 1982, his wife Jo-Ann who's been by his side ever since, through thick and thin, good times and bad times, always together they accomplished what they set out to do. Charlie had a vision to share his great passion for jazz with the world. Not too many people get to live their life's dream- - Charlie O certainly did. He was successful and well-respected by all who knew him.

There has been an overwhelming outpouring of love, affection, sorrow and support from the all of the musicians, the entire jazz community and all of his friends. Charlie touched the lives of many people. He will be missed by all who knew him. Charlie is survived by Jo-Ann, his brother Johnny, nephew Jay, nieces Jill and M.J. and his beautiful granddaughter Noelle.

The club that he built, Charlie O's is the ultimate jazz bar and restaurant, wrote Don Heckman of the L.A. Times. L.A.'s jazz scene has suffered a significant loss in the founder of a venue Downbeat Magazine has rated as one of the Top 100 Jazz Clubs in the world, and the central point for mainstream and traditional West Coast jazz in Los Angeles. The much loved voice of jazz, Chuck Niles called it A great intimate jazz club in the Valley. Originally established in 1987, presenting live jazz performances seven nights a week, 8 PM to Midnight for several years. Dubbed a pine paneled watering hole offering a meat heavy menu and jazz by the L.A. Weekly. Charlie gave musicians a platform and jazz a room to the Southland. The best kept secret in L.A. It's the coolest little Jazz joint in Van Nuys.



Charlie O's has truly become the favorite spot for famous jazz musicians to hang out and sit in with the groups. Charlie has been tireless supporting such hard swinging local artists as Michael Session, John Heard, and Pete Christlieb. Special guests are bound to drop in when you're open every night and the club has that reputation. Moreover, Charlie O's allows jazz musicians to rehearse there as well. Now, that is supporting jazz.



Special monthly performers include Plas Johnson, Jack Sheldon and his California Cool Quartet, the John Heard Trio (John, Danny Grissett and Lorca Hart), the Jennifer Leitham Trio, the Benn Clatworthy Quartet, the Jon Mayer Trio and others. Monday is big band night, featuring the likes of Emil Richard's All-Star Big Band, Frank Capp's Juggernaut, Mike Barone, Gary Tole, Gary Urwin's Jazz Orchestra, Supersax, and Bill Holman.


CHARLIE'S LAUGH



Michael Stephans

Michael Stephans
Michael Stephans
b.1945
drums
: One thing about Charlie O: He really knew how to laugh. When I'd tell him something that tickled his fancy, Charlie would just give it up. His guffaw started somewhere down in his mid-section and worked its way up to the penthouse, where it came roaring out.



Charlie and I used to joke about how we sort of looked alike; you know—the chrome dome and the moustache. I remember one time I was working New Year's Eve at the club with Don Menza, and on the first break, a couple entering the club—thinking I was Charlie—asked about a table. So I seated them. When I told Charlie about my new gig as club owner, he laughed heartily and asked if they tipped me. Shortly thereafter, he grew a beard.



I don't think I've ever met a club owner who brought more humanity and warmth to that demanding and often thankless profession, than Charlie and his lovely alter ego, Jo. With Charlie and Jo, if you were a jazz musician, you were family. To lose Charlie is to lose a brother—plain and simple. The last time I saw Charlie, we shared a joke and as always, had a good laugh. What better swan song?



Roger Neumann

Roger Neumann
Roger Neumann
b.1941
sax, tenor
: The first thing I think of, when I remember Charlie, is that rough, husky voice—and the sound of it when he laughed. I always felt a sense of satisfaction when I made him laugh.

I had played in Charlie O's with some small groups before Charlie heard about my Rather Large Band. He kept asking me when I was going to bring my band into the club, which is a switch from the usual routine of begging club owners to give your band a chance. I kept putting it off, and finally—one night, he said, O.K., I'm not going to bug you anymore. You let me know when you're ready. Of course, that's when I decided to do it!



Among my most memorable conversations with Charlie—at the end of the bar—was when he told me, in a very sincere manner, that he just wanted to have a place where guys like Plas Johnson, etc., etc. could have a place to come in an play. Charlie seemed to especially favor saxophone players. You've gotta love a guy like that!



THESE CATS Carl Saunders leader and trumpet. Trumpets: Pete Desiena, Lee Thornberg, Bob Summers, Ron Stout. Trombones: Charlie Loper, Scott Whitfield, Andrew Lippman Craig Gossnel. Saxophones: Lanny Morgan, Glenn Morresett, Pete Christlieb, Jerry Pinter, Bob Efford. Piano John Campbell. Bass Dave Stone and drums Santo Savino. Rarely do you have an ensemble that houses the creme de la creme of the jazz nation and this one does just that, and then some.



Frank Capp

Frank Capp
Frank Capp
b.1931
drums
: Back in November 2006 Charlie asked me if I would consider taking my big band Juggernaut into the club. I thought it would be a gamble, not only because the bandstand was small, but also the cost might be prohibitive for him. But, I said OK I'll take the chance. Well that 1st Monday "Big Band Night" was a rousing success. The club was packed and many had to be turned away. He really started something.



Here we are two years later and Monday nights still feature big bands. Many new (and old) bands were formed because he gave them a place to play. No other clubs were doing that on a regular basis. Charlie loved all kinds of jazz in his club and wouldn't vary from that format. He never hired rock & roll or so called pop music. He was the jazz musicians best friend. He would feed all the cats that worked there. It was also the only "Jazz Hang" for the cats, like Donte's was years ago and Jim & Andy's was in New York. We will all miss him and I feel deep sorrow because he also was my friend.



Joe Magnarelli

Joe Magnarelli
Joe Magnarelli
b.1960
trumpet
: I had the pleasure of playing at Charlie O's, a few times, even though I live in New York City. Charlie always made me feel welcome, he was very gracious, and classy. I am very sorry that he has left us, it won't be the same without him. I can't wait to see his wife, Jo-Ann, the next time I am at the club, and give her a hug.

Joe LaBarbera

Joe LaBarbera
Joe LaBarbera
b.1948
drums
: I liked Charlie and Jo-Ann immediately, especially when Charlie told me he was from Batavia, NY, a town well known to me which is 25 miles from my home town of Mt. Morris , NY. Beyond that small detail was his obvious love of the music and the people who play the music, a fact that is apparent the minute you walk into the club. Both Charlie (and Jo-Ann) made you feel welcome and went out of their way to do whatever they could to make the music the most important thing in their club.



As the years went on, Charlie was constantly upgrading and improving wherever he could, including moving the ice machine (actually didn't sound too bad on certain tunes!) enlarging the stage to accommodate big bands, getting a new piano and a drum set and having a working sound system. I also don't know too many places that have a resident piano tuner (Ron Tuttle) who keeps the piano in good shape for all. Los Angeles jazz musicians and fans alike were very fortunate to have known Charlie and to still have a place like Charlie O's to play in.



It will never be the same without you, Charlie. God bless and rest in peace.

John Heard

John Heard
John Heard
b.1938
bass, acoustic
: As you know, I worked at Charlie O's since he started hiring jazz musicians. In the beginning, we were accompanied, particularly on ballads and bass solos, by the icemaker machine located next to the bandstand. Charlie took care of this eventually.



I was surprised to learn of his construction background which was mentioned in his obituary. Over the years I sought and got good advice from him about things I needed done around the house but he never mentioned he had been in that business. That was kind of typical for him, i.e., not blowing his own horn.



Charlie loved jazz and the club which has a great jazz joint ambiance about it. Make no mistake. Even though I worked for him at the club those eight years or so, I considered him a trusted friend and confidante. He was a sweetheart of a guy and I do and will miss him. He did a service to the entire L.A. jazz community by providing a venue where jazz fans young and old could hear good music and where new fans could discover its magic.



Jon Mayer

Jon Mayer
Jon Mayer
b.1938
piano
: I'm honored to be asked to comment on Charlie's passing—He is missed. Charlie was a great man for having put together the only true "jazz joint" in L.A. I met him some six years ago through my buddy and "house" drummer Roy McCurdy. I soon began an association with the family that keeps jazz alive seven nights a week. I can't think of Charlie without thinking of his loving wife Jo-Ann. They were a real team.



Charlie and I got along great as we were both from the east coast and could understand being direct in communication. He was gruff when he needed to be but he was a pussycat most days. He really took care of the musicians which is the most salient point I can make. He loved the club (Charlie O's) and the guys who played there. He did something a few years ago that is amazing. At a tough time in the business, he invested in an upgrade that provided a wonderful new stage setting with a new piano (something pretty important to me). I will close by saying it was always a pleasure to go to work at Charlie's place.

It felt like home.





Gene Cipriano, Rose Menza, Charlie, Tom Ranier and Don Menza



Julie Kelly

Julie Kelly
Julie Kelly
b.1947
: I miss Charlie not only for his love of the music but because he was a good friend. He managed to run a jazz club and a good, old-fashioned watering hole at the same time and I loved him for that. Whether I was playing on stage or listening and hanging out, I always felt his feisty, truthful and original presence. Authenticity is at the heart of jazz, and Charlie had that quality in spades. He was one- of-a-kind, one-of-us, and the one-and-only Charlie O.



Pete Christlieb

Pete Christlieb
Pete Christlieb
b.1945
saxophone
: Charlie was a good friend and I will miss him along with the entire L.A. jazz community. He gave us place to play where most of the people come there to hear the music. Because of Charlie the Big Bands have a place to play and I know of only one other club in L.A. that has that. I play there often and every time I do I can still see Charlie sitting in his spot at the end of the bar.



Denise Donatelli

Denise Donatelli
Denise Donatelli

vocalist
: There are no words to express my sadness and shock over the loss of my dear friend, Charlie. He had a profound effect on the jazz community in Los Angeles and created a warm and inviting atmosphere where one could enjoy jazz music with world class musicians seven nights a week. I feel honored to have known Charlie and to have been given the opportunity to perform at his club. He was a warm, gracious and generous man who loved to laugh, and along with Jo-Ann, embraced me as a member of his family. I will miss him dearly.



Dave Pell

Dave Pell
Dave Pell
b.1935
saxophone
: Charlie was a very nice man and liked all kinds of jazz and the musicians that were involved. He was always helping, if it was lugging in the boxes of music, he was there to help. If it was getting the piano tuned, he would make sure it was handled. We were there for over two years on a steady basis and can't remember meeting a bigger fan than Charlie. Always interested in how we felt and how things were going. Not only the owner but a real nice friend. We will miss him.



Scott Whitfield

Scott Whitfield
Scott Whitfield
b.1963
trombone
: It is an honor for me to send a few words about my friend, the late Charlie Ottaviano.

Charlie had a smile as big as his heart, and always seemed to be having the time of his life in his seat at the end of the bar. Musicians have always been treated with the utmost respect at Charlie-O's, and have always been made to feel welcome. In fact, to this day, every time I play at Charlie-O's, I feel like a member of the family. And what a loving, swinging family it is!

Thank you, Charlie, Jo-Ann, and everyone, for your wonderful support, and for keeping this venue going in often hard economic times. Everyone who reads this must pledge to continue supporting Charlie-O's. Thank you for your time.

Tenderly



Jack Sheldon, a beacon for some 60 years on the West Coast jazz scene, the celebrated trumpet player, vocalist, bandleader, was there when the so-called West Coast Jazz, a cooled-down version of hard bop was born. Sheldon with his California Cool Quartet, a group he started in 1998 with his current lineup of Joe Bagg, piano, Jennifer Leitham, bass, and Dick Weller, drums, has been playing with the quartet as one of his regular gigs, Charlie O's in Van Nuys. Besides the jazz, there always lots of laughs. I'm having a great time, he says. Just learning and playing.



Jack Sheldon

Jack Sheldon
Jack Sheldon
b.1931
trumpet
: Charlie O was a true jazz aficionado. He was encouraging to all the cats and he kept a jazz haven where all the cats could work-out. He gave us a place to work and play. He was special. He was a special jazz cat.



Jennifer Leitham

: I am very sorry to hear of Charlie O's passing. He was truly a beacon for the real jazz players and aficionados. The fact that he was a bassist always made me feel welcome in his club. Charlie O was truly a kindred spirit. It is highly unusual these days to play for an entrepreneur who is a fellow musician. He was immersed in the music. I'll always remember his good humor and kindness, and especially that he gave me a regular night and a chance to prove that my music has always come first. I've been to the club a few times since his passing and it's difficult to look to the end of the bar and not see him on his usual perch.



Bill Henderson

Bill Henderson
Bill Henderson
b.1926
vocalist
: Charlie O was a music man. It was his dream to have a club so he could always hear the kind of music he loved most of all seven days a week. Jazz, big bands, quartets, trios, it was all good to Charlie, so he opened a club called Charlie O's. He and his wife Jo-Ann ran the place like a family affair. They hired musicians they wanted to hear.



I think it all started with John Heard, who gave the place atmosphere with his music and paintings of very important, famous, and knowledgeable musicians. Charlie was always looking for new talent.



I don't know when Charlie had the time to do all of the things he did and still be at the entrance of the club where he greeted people with a smile when they walked through the door. He was on a first name basis with a lot of the customers who came to his club. He was a very special man.

There will never be another, but Jo-Ann is still there and runs the place the way he would. We all loved Charlie he loved us.

Long live Charlie O's!



Brick Wahl—L.A. Weekly: This one hurts, but we have to say a few words about Charlie Ottaviano, the Charlie O of Charlie O's. He's gone, betrayed by his ticker two Mondays ago. A couple nights later, the place was packed, the jazz was darker, bluesier and infinitely sadder no matter how hard they bopped. That joint was his dream, and there's no place in all of L.A. these days that is as pure a jazz club as Charlie O's. Scarcely a night goes by we couldn't recommend. None of it would have happened without Charlie O. We'll miss those late nights at the end of the bar, he would be cracking wise with John Heard (though Heard would out talk him 10 or 20 words to one).



Oh, yeah, Charlie was some cat. May the players play their hearts out for the man.




Charlie O
Charlie Ottaviano
January 3, 1942 ~ November 17, 2008

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Photography Credits:
Charlie O's Marquee, courtoisie Scott Whitfield
Charlie O's ambience, Verofoto
Big Band Night, Johnny Jazz
All others from Charlie O's courtoisie Jo-Ann



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