The Jazz Corner of the World – Birdland Jazz Club, NYC
Charlie Parker acquired the nickname "Yardbird" early in his career and the shortened form "Bird" remained his brandname for the rest of his life, inspiring the titles of many of Parker’s compositions. It was him who in the end of 40’ inspired Morris & Irving Levy to open in a winter of 1949 the jazz club called Birdland. It was him who was the biggest attraction of the jazz filled nights in this club for years (until he was banned in the spot and the caged finches were put up to justify the name of it).
The original Birdland, located at 1678 Broadway, just north of West 52nd Street in Manhattan was 400 seats venue and had space for a full orchestra. The venue attracted other jazz musicians who also made recordings there. This includes Art Blakey's 1954 two-volume A Night at Birdland, most of John Coltrane's Live at Birdland and the Toshiko - Mariano Quartet's Live at Birdland. Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Louie Bellson, Bud Powell, Stan Getz, Lester Young, and many others made appearances. George Shearing's standard "Lullaby of Birdland" (1952) was named in the club's honor. The club's original master of ceremonies, the diminutive, four feet tall Pee Wee Marquette, was notorious for mispronouncing the names of musicians if they refused to tip him. During the 1950s, Birdland also became a fashionable place for celebrities to be seen with Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Joe Louis, Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, Sugar Ray Robinson and others as regulars. In addition Sammy Davis, Jr. performed there at times and the famous DJ, Symphony Sid Torin made a name for himself broadcasting live from the club to radio listeners up and down the eastern seaboard. In the first five years of it’s existence club had 1,400,000 visitors. Despite this illustrious history, the club began to decline during the 1960s. It was closed in 1965 due to increased rents and re-opened for one night in 1979.
Birdland got back to live in 1986, uptown at 2745 Broadway, on the corner 105th Street where it was well renowned for its great acoustics and unique setup. In ten years, more than 2,000 emerging artists performed at the club. On many occasions, artists who performed at the original club on 52nd street graced the stage of the second version of Birdland as well. After a decade of neighborhood success on the Upper West Side, decision was made to move the club back to Midtown. The new Birdland offers top-flight jazz in a world class setting, good sight lines and acoustics, elbow room, and an award-winning menu featuring American cuisine with a Cajun flair.
Since the reemergence of the club, midtown Manhattan has been treated to some of the best jazz on the planet, including memorable sets by such musicians as Oscar Peterson, Pat Metheny, Diana Krall, Roy Haynes, Michel Legrand, Dave Brubeck, Pat Martino, Tony Williams, Hank Jones, Michel Petrucciani, Maynard Ferguson, Freddie Hubbard, Marian McPartland, John Pizzarelli, Kurt Elling, Joe Lovano, McCoy Tyner, Michael Brecker, Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Jon Hendricks, George Shearing, James Moody, Yellowjackets, John Scofield, Phoebe Snow, Dave Holland, and Tito Puente, as well as the big bands of Chico O'Farrill, Duke Ellington, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Maria Schneider. In addition, Birdland is home to such popular musical events as the Umbria Jazz Festival in NYC and the Annual Django Reinhardt NY Festival.
About the club’s meaning to the popular culture we might find out from numerous references made throughout the years by the contemporary artists. Birdland was popular with many of the writers of the Beat generation. Reference to Birdland is made in Jack Kerouac's novel On The Road, in 1993, Us3 released the single "Cantaloop", which opens with the line: "Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, we have something special down here at Birdland this evening"; Pee Wee Marquette's opening announcement from Art Blakey's first Birdland album in 1954. It appeared on Us3 1993 album, Hand on the Torch, which was Blue Note's first platinum-selling album. Weather Report released their most commercially successful hit entitled "Birdland" on the album Heavy Weather in 1977. The Manhattan Transfer recorded a cover version of the same song in 1979, with vocalese lyrics describing the club in its heyday. Sesame Street featured a night club called Birdland, run by Hoots the Owl, which was occupied by various birds.