Monday, December 14, 2009

Birdland Turns Sixty

Legendary jazz club, Birdland, celebrates its sixtieth anniversary on December 15. Originally located on Broadway near 52nd Street, the famed club was host to nearly every great jazz musician playing through the second half of the twentieth century. Birdland was the place to be if you wanted to listen to the finest in jazz throughout the fifties . Named in honor of one of the most innovative saxophonists of the era, Charlie 'Bird' Parker, and made famous in George Shearing's classic standard, "Lullaby of Birdland," the club was in Parker's words, "the jazz corner of the world." It was the place for "flying high."

The one time I actually managed to get into that famed corner was in the early sixties—money was tight then, and even a tiny cover charge and a two drink minimum was a bit high for a graduate student on a budget—was to see the Oscar Peterson Trio. I don't know how many times I had longingly passed by that club entrance on Broadway on my way to that other jazz landmark, the Metropole. There you could stand outside the plate glass window for hours if you wanted and listen to the Dixieland on the stage behind the bar. But still it wasn't Birdland. Dixieland was nothing to sneer at, but it wasn't the cutting edge of modern jazz. That was Birdland. Birdland had the mystique. Birdland had the best. And Oscar Peterson, that night, didn't let us down. He was worth every penny, even if the drinks didn't quite match the music.

A short history of the club with a link to original memorabilia is available at Birdland website. Check out the opening night picture with Lester Young and Charlie Parker on the bandstand. Read the names of the legends who played there: Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey, Erroll Garner and Stan Getz, John Coltrane and Chet Baker. Take a look at the lyrics to Manhattan Transfer's "Birdland."
Sixty years old on the fifteenth—instead of "Happy Birthday: join with Ella Fitzgerald and sing "Lullaby of Birdland. "

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