A live jazz band keeps people on their feet at Celebration Pointe

Gainesville resident Vaughn Littrup, 69, and his wife, Jan Wade-Littrup, 63, take every opportunity to swing dance whenever they hear jazz music.

At Saturday’s Jazz on the Green event, the Littrups were the first to spin on the lawn. They were among more than 100 people who danced, broke and danced on the lawn to the group’s jazzy beats at Celebration Pointe.

The couple, who have been married for 44 years, are looking for jazz events in the city.

“You give me good music, we dance. Dancing tunes are dancing,” Jan said.

Celebration Pointe hosts its Jazz on the Green event every two weeks, inviting different jazz musicians to perform in front of a live audience.

The audience began to vibrate to the rhythm of “Memphis Underground” by Herbie Mann and sang “Dance Me To the End of Love” by Leonard Cohen.

The group experimented with unique jazz interpretations of classics from around the world like “Mas Que Nada” by Brazilian musician Sergio Mendes and “Ces Boots Sont Fait Pour Marcher” by French 60s pop singer Eileen. This week’s performers were the group Gosia and Ali. Gosia and Ali played a unique blend of swing jazz, 70s funk, Latin jazz as well as jazz versions of rock or pop songs. They kicked off the event with a jazz rendition of “La Belle Dame Sans Regrets” by rock musician Sting.

Like the Littrups, several other spectators were drawn to the music and began dancing on the lawn in front of the stage.

Tomi Greentree, a 75-year-old Gainesville resident, also enjoyed dancing to the music. Greentree is a member of the Florida Swing Dancing Club, a local organization for swing dancing enthusiasts.

“If you just come and feel the music and dance to it, that’s all it takes. You don’t even need classes,” Greentree said.

Jessica Bell, 35, traveled from Jacksonville to visit over the weekend. As a lifelong jazz fan, she found this event a fun way to spend the evening with her friends.

Cloudia Kowalski, 32, said she wasn’t a big jazz fan in particular, but loved Gosia and Ali’s performances. Kowalski says she enjoys the Jazz on the Green event because it’s a safe way to enjoy live entertainment.

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“During this time of COVID, it’s really great to be able to celebrate something outside. I’ll come out and support any kind of live talent anytime,” Kowalski said.

Gosia Sobala, 58, and her husband, Ali Che’Ree, 58, founded their band in 1995. On Saturday, they performed as a quintet with Lawrence Buckner on base, Tim Murray on drums and Ekendra Das on percussion .

The band has performed at local and international venues, Sobala said. Recently they played in Mérida, Mexico.

Sobala graduated from UF in 1992 with a degree in musical performance. She was initially a classical musician and came to the United States from Poland to study classical music. After meeting Che’Ree, she fell in love with jazz.

“It was very difficult, very difficult because I had never studied jazz before,” she said.

She admires how free a musician is when playing jazz, instead of following a strict composition.

“You start creating your own sound for the structure,” Sobala said. “So you have freedom. You free yourself from thought in a strict chord progression.

Sobala and Che’Ree regularly perform as a duo for Francesca’s Trattoria, a restaurant in Gainesville. Unfortunately, Francesca closed in August 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We felt like we had lost our home,” she said.

During the pandemic, Sobala and Che’Ree transitioned to performing live on Facebook from their home studio with thousands of people around the world. They continue to occasionally livestream to raise money to help their friend, Shel McClure, a former manager of Francesca’s, start her own food truck.

Sobala and Che’Ree were hired by The Keys Grill & Piano bar in August 2020, a restaurant in Celebration Pointe. The duo perform every Sunday as part of live entertainment host The Keys’ rotation.

Assistant General Manager Dale Schroff wanted to have Sobala and Che’Ree because of their positive reputations around Gainesville.

“They’re one of our first regular performers that we had once we started recovering from the pandemic,” Schroff said.

Contact Erina at erina.anwar@ufl.edu Follow her on Twitter @ErinaAnwar_.

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Erina Anouar

Erina is a sophomore journalism student and reports on East Gainesville for The Alligator. Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Erina grew up in Fort Lauderdale and loves discovering new stories in Gainesville. When not writing, she enjoys exploring local restaurants and watching Korean dramas.

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Henry R. Wright