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Charlie O the Jazz Man

Randall Robinson By

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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.


Michael Stephans: 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?


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