Remembering Luigi Waites

Omaha jazz legend is dead at 82.


Omaha, Nebraska – He was known by his first name?Luigi. Luigi Waites, mentor, jazz drummer and vibraphonist, and decades long presence on the Omaha jazz scene, died last week. He was 82.

Countless jazz fans saw Luigi over the decades at his weekly performance at Mr. Toad's where he created memorable music for over 1,700 gigs. In recent years, Luigi had performed solo at the Dundee Dell four times a week. His immense musical talent as well as his warm, easy going personality gained him wide acclaim.
Luigi was also known for his contributions as an educator to the development of countless budding jazz musicians, making an important contribution to the Cathedral Arts Jazz Project over the years.

Luigi was named best jazz artist at the 2009 Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards and was also awarded a lifetime achievement award in 2006. He performed with many legendary artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown.

Luigi released 2 recordings with his band Luigi Inc. "Fear Not", in 2001, and "Distant Relatives" in 2006.

During the last decade Luigi faced a number of health issues. In 2001, Luigi had a heart attack and surgery to clear blockage in an artery. In the last year, a stroke sidelined him. An appearance as my guest on Jazz in the Afternoon and a performance at Loves Jazz and Art Center in Omaha that was to be Luigi's comeback were unfortunately brief respites in a period of declining health.

Luigi Waites leaves behind two sons, four daughters, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and countless students, fans, and friends and admirers.

In lieu of flowers, the Waites family encourages donations for the Luigi Waites Jazz Scholarship Fund. Donations are being accepted at Dundee Bank.

I had the good fortune to have Luigi as my guest at the KIOS studios on two occassions. Recording Engineer Mike Hansen and I have prepared an edit of my first converstation with Luigi. Click on the link at the top of the article to listen to the audio recording.