Spotlight: Opa Life Greek Café in Tempe hosts jazz nights
By Patricia Myers
The relaxed atmosphere of Opa Life Greek Café in Tempe has gained new patrons due to regular jazz performances that were started in October from the suggestion of a local jazz fan.
“I love Greek Food. And I love jazz,” said the fan who’s known as Doc. “When I first came into the café as a customer and experienced the Opa Life ambience and the caring and friendly staff, I thought jazz would be a perfect fit.”
He soon contacted Jerry Schuiteboer, Opa Life’s promotions director. “When I sat down with Jerry and shared my vision, he was surprisingly open. I believed that in the same evening, listener-friendly jazz would complement the dining experience,” said Doc, who became the café’s jazz director. The result is twice-weekly live-jazz performances in a cozy corner of the L-shaped café.
“Because we were less than a year old, we were open to new ideas that could complement our Opa ‘Celebration of Life’ brand,” said Schuiteboer. “Doc, an existing customer who coincidentally is also a customer loyalty consultant, proposed this idea. We agreed to give it a fair trial to see if customers would like it. Positive feedback from existing and new customers has justified our commitment to provide a great jazz venue.”
The tryout period began as one Friday night, becoming a weekly series in late October, adding ASU student jam sessions on Wednesday in March, and becoming pro-student jam sessions in May, according to Doc. “Today, our Friday series features a diner-friendly set followed by sets that are more performance-oriented. Our Wednesday jams enable musicians to play what they wish, and to enjoy the food at discount pricing.”
Pianist Beth Lederman said, “The audience has always been so appreciative and supportive. I think the food is so good and the atmosphere is relaxed; friendly people enjoy hearing music. We are so lucky to have another venue which supports jazz in town.”
Schuiteboer said, “Our popularity as a restaurant has grown significantly due to a number of actions we have taken, including sponsoring the jazz nights. In my role, I have the flexibility to make decisions in the best interests of ownership regarding music. My plans with Doc are to continue our jazz offerings year-round, and even add special jazz events on Saturdays and/or Sundays. The popularity of our food coupled with an attractive casual café setting is enhanced by music from outstanding musicians.”
Vocalist Holly Pyle said, “The restaurant does well in enabling an intimate setting for a timeless genre, showcasing a broad palette of local musicians. Grateful to be part of it, I admire the progress this series has made in such a short time.”
Schuiteboer said attendance was low at first “because we didn’t know how to promote the music. Jazz fans did not know we existed as a jazz venue. We now have built a consistent following for our Friday jazz series and our Wednesday jazz jams featuring both established local musicians and students. Occasionally, we do special Saturday and Sunday events that we announce through the MusicSceneAZ website and other local jazz-information mediums.”
Greek-born pianist Ioannis Goudelis vouched both for this new jazz venue and its food. “All my experiences performing at Opa were very well-attended and very responsive. Warm vibes and people, and great music. And the food, it’s great!”
If You Go: 6:30 to 9:30 pm Wed. and Fri., Opa Life Greek Cafe, 227 E. Baseline Road J-7 (between Mill Ave./Rural Road), Tempe 85283, opalifegreekcafe.com/baseline/, 480-292-8180, food, no cover: Wed jam session; Fri. (duos, trios, quartets). Opa Life Greek Café is a local family-owned franchise whose founder is a Greek restaurateur who opened the Tempe venue in July 2014.
Other live-music venues interested in being featured as a Spotlight Venue can contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or at this website via the Contact tab.