Live jazz plays seven nights a week at Cafe Centro.
Both a popular touring jam band and a modern recording label make a statement with their shared name: Jazz Is Dead. A similar sentiment exists about live music that’s affordable and good quality and about the once-thriving Northwood section of northern West Palm Beach.
But Italian restaurant Cafe Centro comes alive daily to dispel those notions, and not only because of its gourmet menu.
At the corner of Northwood Road and North Dixie Highway, it features live music seven nights a week, a rarity. The fact that it’s jazz makes it a destination for discerning music fans.
“We started playing there about five years ago,” says bassist Susan Merritt, whose self-titled trio features youthful piano and vocal sensation Dr. Gianni Bianchini and her longtime rhythm section bandmate, drummer Marty Campfield. “There’s a dining room upfront and a bar in the back, and both rooms have a piano.”
Merritt has been an area performer and piano instructor since coming south from North Carolina to play dinner theater shows in 1982. She and Campfield once ran the Jazz Showcase, a nightclub that was 15 blocks south and featured future stars Medeski, Martin & Wood, members of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones after a SunFest appearance, and more between 1993 and 1996.
The Jazz Showcase gave it another go at the former Carefree Theater complex in West Palm Beach in 1997, memorably featuring star guitarist John Scofield’s quartet with saxophonist Seamus Blake, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart. Merritt knows from experience how difficult it is to present such an expansive calendar.
“Cafe Centro is one of the only places I can think of that’s presenting this much live entertainment,” she says, “especially jazz, which is wonderful for both the musicians and people who love this kind of music.”
Merritt’s trio performs on Wednesday and Sunday nights. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, it’s the Copeland Davis Trio, led by the pianist who has performed locally and nationally, in both jazz and symphonic pops settings, since attending Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton in the 1970s.
The bar portion of the cafe on its west end is nicknamed the Legends Room, which is a fitting tribute to Davis, whose trio mates are bassist Val Shaffer and drummer Bill Alexander.
“Besides all the concerts that he does, this is one of the only places where Copeland plays,” says Joyce Kutsal, who has owned Cafe Centro with her husband, Sal Kutsal, since 2007. “Since the COVID pandemic, more people have realized that he’s here and started coming to see him. He’s part of the Centro family.”
The Kutsals have presented live music since 2009, but it wasn’t jazz at first. That decision came more recently.
“Initially we had Motown music, which we still have late on Friday and Saturday nights,” Joyce Kutsal says. “Shortly before COVID, we started booking Susan and Copeland’s trios and other jazz artists.”
In addition to its regular calendar, promoter Rob Russell started a monthly Monday open mic night in February that has featured the likes of Dawn Derow, Mike McGann, Meri Ziev and Gregory “Popeye” Alexander. Russell has also been involved in the cafe’s intermittent cabaret and dinner showcases, which have included performances by the likes of Ann Hampton Callaway, Billy Stritch and Carol Bufford.
Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday, Cafe Centro serves appetizers, soups, salads, wraps, sandwiches, burgers, calzones, pizzas, pastas, other entrees, desserts, domestic and imported beers, and house wines and spirits. A special happy hour bites menu is available 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
See pianist Kimberly Forman from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, the Susan Merritt Trio from 6:30 to 9:30 Wednesdays and Sundays, and the Copeland Davis Trio from 6:30 to 9:30 Thursdays and 6 to 8:30 Fridays and Saturdays, with rotating Motown performers from 8 to 11 on those weekend nights, at Cafe Centro, 2409 N. Dixie Hwy.
For further information, call 561-514-4070 (or 561-804-0009 for takeout orders from the entrance at 402 Northwood Road), or visit cafecentrowpb.com.