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Jazz sets Hollywood stage for more live shows

It's quite the feat to stage a completely new type of entertainment, and another to sell out all the tickets a week and a half after they were issued.

That was the happy circumstance Gowanda's Historic Hollywood Theater found itself in last week as Kimberly Merrill and her four-piece jazz ensemble took over the stage in a dinner and concert production.

Organizers had to adapt a bit, how to set up banquet tables on an included, theater floor. After experimentation, they discovered angling the tables towards center stage, left the least incline of any other design.

The Mustard Seed Restaurant of South Dayton catered the buffet meal that met with approval from the guests, while staff from the South Dayton Hotel, kept beverage glasses full throughout the evening.

The night began with positive comments from Mark Thomas of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Thomas agreed that most of the spotlight is placed on developments in Buffalo, but that a lot of activity is going on, here in Gowanda, and Jamestown and Olean.

Exciting for Hollywood Board members was Thomas' promise that he would be bringing his peers to the area to see the type of work that is going on.

Hollywood President Mark Burr served as the evening's MC. Introducing the hometown Merrill, Burr said, "Back in 2009 I remember a young lady who came here with blonde hair, but by the end of the day she was all brown from helping clean mud out of the Hollywood basement following the flood."

Merrill and the band got the night started with the classic "All of Me" and then launched into the "Boy" from Ipanema, a gender twist for the female singer.

The musicians, all students at the Eastman School of Music sounded like seasoned jazz players. Trumpet, upright bass, guitar and a single snare drum kit, filled the Hollywood's space perfectly. Merrill showed a strong vocal range, pausing during songs to allow band members to run into improvisational solos.

Of the musicians, Brandon Thoi, trumpet, Billy Petito, guitar, Gordon Engelglu, drums and Jakob Ebers, upright bass, two had been to the Hollywood before to enjoy Merrill's Mid Summer's Night Opera. All thought the hall was a great space.

Grabbing a quick bit to eat between the group's two sets, Merrill was happy with the sold out show. "Everything we've done here, the people have come," she said, adding, "It's only going to get better. This place will become a big part of the community."

Hollywood Board Member Sal December agreed with Merrill's sentiment. "The Board would like to bring in more live events." December added that each production is "A learning curve." Among the new items at this show were the black dinner plates "The Theater bought them, before we were always renting." However, it was not clear who would be washing those dishes.

For State Assemblyman Joe Giglio, the show was great "The only place I get to watch jazz these days is on PBS."

The jazz ensemble continued to play a variety of styles and tempos while guests continued in conversation. During one slow number, several couples, unaffected by the inclined floor, took to dancing near the stage.


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