The Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts celebrated its anniversary with a performance by the Orlando Jazz Orchestra.
From the outside, it looks like a regular old warehouse, though it’s anything but that.
Inside the yellow behemoth holds the artistry and passion of a musician who simply wanted a place to record music and bring in world-class acts.
Sitting at 1905 Kentucky Ave. in Winter Park, the Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts has been a flourishing music venue and studio since Chris and Melody Cortez, and friend Mark Piszczek founded it last July.
On Tuesday, July 18, the Blue Bamboo celebrated its anniversary the same way it started, with a sold-out performance by the Orlando Jazz Orchestra.
“It’s a humble setting, but with so much respect for the artist that it really can’t be beat,” Chris Cortez said. “If you are a musician, this is the kind of place that you want to play.”
The Orlando native has been playing music since his dad bought him his first guitar when he was 9. Since then, Chris Cortez knew it was all he wanted to do with his life.
As he got older and developed into a professional musician, Chris Cortez was part of a jazz-fusion band called Big Bamboo — playing at local venues in and around Orlando. It was at one popular Orlando venue, called Daisy’s Basement, that Cortez met Piszczek, a saxophone player.
While living in Houston, Melody Cortez’s corporate job ended, so the couple sat down and started to figure out what they wanted to do going forward.
Chris Cortez had established an independent jazz recording studio earlier in 1986 called Blue Bamboo Music, but it wasn’t enough. That’s when the inspiration for the Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts struck.
“The record company by itself wasn’t really sustaining us, and we really felt like we wanted to do something together, and so the idea came up that we would come back to Orlando and create some kind of business,” Chris Cortez said. “And then we got here, and I started looking at all the other recording studios that existed here, and I thought, ‘What if we had a variation? Like we were part venue and part studio,’ so it could be that place where a group would come to get a live video shot in front of an audience? Those places are hard to find.”
Once they got moved back to Central Florida, the next step was to find a place to put their new music venue.
They wanted to place it close enough to popular spots in town, so they could pick up more foot traffic. But at the same time, they wanted a place that gave off the vibe of a secret spot.
After searching, they stumbled across an old warehouse sitting on Kentucky Avenue, parallel from an always-busy West Fairbanks Ave.
“It’s a warehouse district primarily, and that was part of the idea — we really didn’t want to be on the main road, we wanted to be kind of this secret little hideaway place,” Chris Cortez said. “And the idea of being in a warehouse — it’s just a big empty building, so we could put anything inside it that we wanted.”
After a year of working out the permits and getting the building into shape, the Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts held its first show July 18, 2016, with the Orlando Jazz Orchestra selling out the place.
While Blue Bamboo books acts to come and play, Cortez sets a high bar for who he allows to play on his stage — he wants people to walk away with their money’s worth of entertainment.
As a part of that desire to bring in quality entertainment, throughout the year Cortez spends much time getting to know musicians and groups around the area who can provide just that.
“If there is a musician on my stage, I would kind of like him to be a virtuoso musician,” Chris Cortez said. “I want it to be a special night, because if you plunk down $15 or $20 for a ticket, I want you to walk away going, ‘Wow! That was amazing! That was something I might have seen at Carnegie Hall, but I saw it here for only 20 bucks.’ That’s the goal — it’s affordable, virtuosic entertainment.”