Gyros and Jazz: a look at the Thursday tradition

On Thursday nights from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., Zorba’s Greek Cafe on Green Street transforms into one of the top jazz venues in the CU area. The café surprisingly provides a fantastic atmosphere for those looking for a low-key and stimulating evening. And if, like myself, you’ve spent most Thursday nights of your collegiate career at Murphy’s or another favorite campus bar, it might be a nice change of pace. (Also, for those who may wonder, they do serve alcohol.)
The jazz tradition at Zorba’s is one of the oldest on campus.
“They had jazz here back in the day with a piano in the back room … in the ’70s and ’80s,” said Tom Paynter, keyboardist and flute player for progressive jazz quintet Ear Doctor, who played at the cafe just last Thursday. For Paynter and many other musicians in the area, Zorba’s has been a mainstay for playing gigs year after year.
“I’ve been playing here for about 17 years,” Paynter said.
As well as providing a venue for some of the best jazz in the area, Jazz Nights at Zorba’s are a time for students and professionals to support each other.
“Most jazz majors come here,” said Keith Pitner, a music education major. “[The musicians] are people we know, oftentimes grad students, and they get paid better if we come. If I play here someday, I hope others will come out, too.”
“It’s amazing the musicians we have coming through here — I’m often humbled by it,” said Matt Mortenson, owner of Zorba’s for the last 26 years. “They don’t make a lot of money, just the cover we charge, but they just want a place to play, and they like the atmosphere. It’s kind of like an old-time jazz club.”
Recently, Zorba’s has opened itself up to other forms of music as well. Funk-jazz groups have been performing occasionally on Fridays, and I-Pan, a University steel drum band, has already performed twice this semester.
“It’s a lot more of a party atmosphere,” Mortenson said.

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