From a teenage keyboard phenom in Qualicum, the young Gary Hodi eventually grew into a construction-working father of five.
But he never completely packed away his early music education, and today Hodi is gradually expanding his exposure and his repertoire through a series of ongoing appearances on the mid-Island.
“I’ve been working in finishing drywall since 1997,” said Hodi, now 37. “But as far as the (piano) playing, you don’t really want to let it go.”
Hodi has kept his hand in the music game — all 10 fingers, actually — through regular Wednesday evening gigs at the Shady Rest Lounge in Qualicum Beach since early 2012, in addition to occasional shows here and in Port Alberni with old guitar-slinging buddies Doug Gretsinger and/or Colin Campbell.
In the last month or so, Hodi has become a regular at the Qualicum Beach Inn, where he plays piano and sings in the lounge/dining room each Thursday evening. He has also landed an ongoing spot at Realm Food Co. in Parksville for the diner’s brunch every other Sunday.
In the meantime, he’s still holding down his full-time work in construction and juggling duties as a father of children ranging from eight to 18 years of age.
“I’m just definitely starting to feel like I’m getting back into it,” Hodi said of his music.
“My focus is definitely on my kids and what’s happening with that. But I’m getting better at enjoying it for the sake of playing. I’ve got an opportunity to pass it on, and I’m just digging that.”
After being introduced to piano as an eight-year-old, Hodi began taking lessons at age nine and was soon playing and competing in festivals and recitals. At age 14 he quit his lessons and joined the jazz band Swingcopation as the youngest member of the group of Kwalicum Secondary School students.
His classical training, augmented by influences of jazz introduced by his high school teacher and the pop/rock he grew up with, have made Hodi something of a musical chameleon.
Each of his three current gigs boasts a unique clientele and setting, and he’s easily able to slide from one persona to another to fit the surroundings.
“I find wherever I go to play, I try to read the room to see what they like, because I can stretch out with a few different genres,” he said. “At the Shady Rest I might be doing more Van Morrison, Billy Joel, things like that. People will even clap, because it’s stuff they hear on the radio, more pick-me-up.
“Qualicum Beach Inn, they’re a pretty classy joint. I’ll play more (Michael) Bublé, Harry Connick Jr., a more jazzy, quiet background music. And I make sure I bring a tie and suit jacket,” he adds with a laugh.
Ironically, QB Inn general manager Laurent Neveu approached Hodi after seeing the pianist and vocalist at his rather more pop-oriented and fast-paced Shady Rest show.
“I appreciated his music and asked him if he would consider playing here at the hotel,” said Neveu. “The theme of the hotel is Las Vegas in the ‘50s, so his repertoire is more jazz, Frank Sinatra, that sort of thing. It’s wonderful, classic entertainment; it suits us very well.”
Meanwhile, over at Realm Food Co., partners Kyla Campbell and James Hannah promote a menu of locally sourced, sustainable food, and tend to draw a hip, laid-back and perhaps younger crowd for Sunday brunch.
“We knew we wanted him to play,” said Campbell, who added she and Hannah have known Hodi since they met him while he was performing at Crown Mansion Restaurant in Qualicum Beach in 2011. “I swear, he’s gotten better each time. He brings the ambiance up 10-fold.”
Hodi became a regular Sunday brunch performer at Realm after the business relocated to Parksville from Qualicum Beach earlier this year.
“At Realm, it feels more like background music,” he said. “The music is a bit of a mix of both (pop and jazz), but because it’s a back-to-nature, foods-from-the-garden place, I feel the liberty to play a little more folk music.
“I’m trying to work on it all the time, because I’m recognizing that versatility is the best way I can reach a lot of people. A lot of times you get requests, and it’s nice to be able to fulfill those.”
At this stage of his life, Hodi has no illusions about chasing the fame and fortune of recording and touring stardom. But as long as continuing to perform provides balance and enjoyment to his life — and to the listeners — he intends to keep playing and singing. And to leave his options open.
“I don’t have any big aspirations, but if things go really well, I’m just going to follow up and see where it goes,” he said.
To have a listen, catch Gary Hodi and guests each Wednesday at Shady Rest from 6-9 p.m., or Hodi solo each Thursday at Qualicum Beach Inn from 6-9 p.m., and alternating Sundays (next appearance: March 13) at Realm Food Co. from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.