Dayton icon Jerry Gillotti, Gilly’s nightclub owner, dies

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Dayton icon Jerry Gillotti, Gilly’s nightclub owner, dies

Jerry Gillotti, the iconic co-founder and owner of Gilly’s, died on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 23. He was 80.

A spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office said this morning, Nov. 24, that her office had been notified of Mr. Gillotti’s death at a local hospice facility.

Mr. Gillotti had been severely injured in a robbery and beating outside the nightclub at 132 S. Jefferson St. in March 2016. No arrests have been made

>> RELATED: Gilly’s Jazz owner injured in robbery (March 2016)

The club remains open and plans to continue scheduled shows, including those planned for this weekend.  

The Gillotti family said in a statement that Gilly’s will close permanently on Dec. 31. 

Mr. Gillotti’s son, Mike Gillotti, posted about his father’s passing on his Facebook page. 

“We are very sad to announce that my Dad, Jerry Gillotti, passed away yesterday after a long battle with heart and kidney disease. The Gillotti family would like to thank the Dayton Community for your thoughts and prayers as well as 45 years of supporting the best in live music. Thank you for your love and support.”

Jerry Gillotti in front of Gilly’s nightclub. FILE

Jerry Gillotti mentioned the serious brain injury he sustained in that attack as a major contributor to his declining health in an interview with us last month about the future of his beloved music venue. 

He said he hadn’t fully recovered and was relying on his wife, Winnie Gillotti, for transportation. His brother, Tom, increased his involvement in the business. 

Jerry Gillotti said he wanted to continue operating the club indefinitely, but said he had to face reality. 

 “I am 80 years old,” he told us in the interview. “I don’t have the health or the stamina or the years left or days left.”

REMEMBERING GILLOTTI

Many Dayton-area residents reflected upon Jerry Gillotti’s contribution to the community. 

"Jerry and Gilly’s is a Dayton Original and will be greatly missed in the downtown music scene,” Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said. 

Blues and rock musician Doug Hart of the Doug Hart Band said those close to club had known that Gillotti’s health had taken a turn for the worse recently and he was at Hospice. 

“Knowing it’s going to happen doesn’t make it any easier when it does,” Hart said. 

He has played 20 to 25 shows at Gilly’s in the past 10 years. 

Jerry always gave me the freedom to put on a show the way I wanted and promote it the way I wanted,” Hart said. “Jerry is one of the sweetest men I’ve known. I can’t say enough about the wonderful human being he was, but he was not a pushover. He was good at his business, and you knew where you stood.” 

Hart said Jerry Gillioti also had a great sense of humor. 

“He was very perceptive. He wouldn’t say much, but when he did, everyone listened,” the musician recalled. “He would come up with these one liners and everybody laughed.” 

Jerry Gillotti, the owner of Gilly's, has established a "No Smoking" policy at his bar. The establishment is located at the corner of Jefferson Street and Fifth Street in downtown Dayton. Ron Alvey

Gilly’s helped put Dayton on the map in the jazz and blues worlds. Hart said he was humbled to play there. 

“It is one of the more legendary clubs I know of in the country ,” he said. “Everybody that I considered my hero I’ve seen play there.”

Before opening Gilly’s, Jerry Gillotti was an inside salesperson for the Farnbacher Toy Company and was Public Relations Director for Cassano Pizza King, where he co-hosted the “Fans in the Stands” radio show with Vic Cassano on WHIO Radio for over seven years. 

He had also been an advertising consultant for the Tatone Auto Group in Fairborn. 

Mr. Gillotti, a 1962 University of Dayton graduate,  bought Wedgewood Inn on Patterson Road in 1969 and featured jazz acts there two years before he and his brother purchased the former site of Green Derby at 801 N. Main St. and transformed it into Gilly’s.

The first show as Gilly’s was Roy Meriwether on July 7, 1972, according to Gary J. Leppla, Gillotti’s attorney and friend.

Reached this morning, Leppla said he had visited Mr. Gillotti in recent weeks at both his hospital and at his hospice bedside, and had a brief conversation with the nightclub owner on Tuesday. 

“He said, ‘You didn’t have to come down here.’ Again, typical Jerry, always supportive of others.”

Jerry Gillotti “was one of a kind, really focused on supporting musicians, treating his customers fairly, and providing a quality level of jazz and blues beyond anything we could ever expect,” Leppla said. “So many musicians owe so much to him.”

>> RELATED: Jerry Gillotti just keeps jazzin’ on (April 2010)

In his nomination of Jerry Gillotti to the Dayton Walk of Fame, Leppla said Gillotti became one of the greatest jazz and blues promoters in the United States. After a successful run on North Main Street, Jerry moved Gilly’s to the Dayton Transportation Center. In addition, Jerry hosted a Sunday morning jazz show for several years on WING-AM radio.

Heartfelt tributes to Mr. Gillotti have been posted on Facebook as well. 

IMPACT ON DAYTON MUSIC

His influence was not just local. 

Local musician Hal Melia first met Gillotti 45 years ago

“Everybody around the country knows about Jerry Gillotti and Gilly’s,” Melia said. 

“Dayton’s a place where people make things happen and have to figure out how to do that, and Jerry always did that.”

Performers booked at Gilly’s through the years include a host of local groups and a laundry list of national acts that include Tony Bennett, Diane SchuurBB King, Wynton Marsalis, Art BlakeyDexter GordonBill EvansGeorge Benson,  Herbie Hancock, Count Basie, Bobby Blue Bland and Stevie Ray Vaughn. 

“I put groups in here when I know he wasn’t making a dime on it. And I put groups in here .... that pack the place out for him. He was the same kind of guy no matter what,” Melia said. 

Jerry Gillotti and George Benson handout

Floyd Weatherspoon, one of four vocalists in the Dayton based R&B group “Touch,” said the closure of Gilly’s will leave a hole in the city. 

“I think it going to be a big loss in Dayton,” he said. “There are not a lot of places where grown folks can go without worrying about riff riff coming in and causing confusion.” 

Weatherspoon’s band has played a Valentine’s weekend show at Gilly’s for 20 consecutive years.

In recent years, the group added a Sweetest Day show. 

Weatherspoon spent 32 years in the automobile sales business like Mr. Gillotti’s brother Tom.

“Every time I called, he said ‘how’s sales’ then we started talking about sports and then we start talking about booking the club,” Weatherspoon said with a laugh. “He was a good dude to talk to. It’s just really sad that this happened.”

Weatherspoon said Touch has opened for a list of national acts that includes The Temptations and Eddie Money, but always found its way back to Gilly’s.

“We knew it was great place to play, and we always had a sell-out,” he said. “(Gillotti) gave a lot of local groups a place to showcase their talents. If you were good, you’d come back.”

Gillotti told this news organization in October that he was proud to have brought “every jazz artist in the world” to Dayton. 

I’ve had (45) years, and they have been good years,” he said. “I haven’t made a lot of money to be honest with you, but it is a passion to present the music in the right way.”

Dayton native Tony Houston said Jerry Gillotti and the passion for blues he shared with Dayton greatly influenced him as a musician. 

Houston said he learned from watching and studying under the musicians Gillotti brought to town. In the early days, they were featured for a week at a time and offered classes in their hotel rooms to supplement their income. 

Houston recalled paying George Benson two chickens cooked by his grandmother for a lesson.

He said Mr. Gillotti was generous and offen allowed him to meet musicans backstage. 

“It was a tremendous setting and chance for musicians to learn,” Houston said of Gilly’s. “It a huge loss to the Dayton comunity and music scene.  I hope that something continues to make that happen at Gilly’s.”

Dave Shores, a 22-year sound technician at Gilly’s, said music was Gillotti’s life. 

“It was all about the music,” Shores said. “I watched him take losses on acts to get them in the club.”

Shores said he did repairs at Gilly’s whenever Gillotti asked him.

With a laugh, he recalled Gillotti, after being woken by a nurse, telling him a story from his hospital bed following that March 2016 attack.

“That was Jerry,” Shores said.

He said he once told one of his interns “you haven’t made it in the music business in Dayton” until Jerry Gillotti has chewed you out.

Shores said he later joked with that intern after Jerry did in fact chew him out in a hallway. 

Jerry Gillotti at his club in 1977. CONTRIBUTED HANDOUT

While he could be tough and expected the best as a business owner, Gillotti protected his employees and, on the rare occassions there were problems, defended them, Shores said. 

“He had their backs,” Shores said. “ He’d say, ‘you are not going to trick my people that way’.”

HONORS

In addition to his induction in the Dayton Walk of Fame in 2013, Gillotti was recognized by the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music with the prestigious William Lawless Jones Award for his contributions to the region’s jazz culture.

In an article celebrating his 30th anniversary at Gilly’s, Gillotti told the Dayton Daily News his passion for jazz was ignited during his time in the Army while stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. He frequented jazz clubs and heard iconic acts such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

He left the service in 1958 with an idea.

“If you presented (jazz) correctly, in a nice atmosphere, you’ve got to be successful; people will come out to see it because it’s just so infectious and it’s such good music,” he told contributing writer Kris Alavattam.

WHIO television contributed to this report.


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  • John Bedell
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