Saturday, July 16, 2011

"BIRDLAND" Jazz Corner of the World (Part II)

“Birdland” - Jazz Corner of the World
Part II

The refusal by my dad to use his automobile didn’t discourage us at all, and we took the bus    (#118) from Newark, New Jersey to the Port Authority, in the heart of the “Apple” and then walked  up from 42nd Street to Birdland.  Now, that was more like it.  That evening, I got my first personal glimpse of the famous “Pee Wee Marquette.  He was standing outside of the Club beckoning to passersby to come-on-in for some great jazz.  I don’t remember who I heard and saw that evening, but I do remember that my friends and I had a great time.  After that evening, I visited Birdland (at that location) at least forty or more times.  Occasionally, I made the scene at Birdland during the day, but mostly at night.  Considering the excitement that Birdland generated on a daily basis, it’s no surprise that it attracted its share of celebrities.  I never saw them, but was told that regulars to the nightly festivities included such household names as Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Joe Louis, Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Sugar Ray Robinson.

            In addition to Charlie “Bird” Parker, scores of jazz legends were regulars at the Club.  Count Basie and his smokin’ big band made Birdland their New York headquarters. Eventually, the recording of George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland - Live” was made at the Club.  I’m happy to say that I had the privilege to see and hear Shearing perform at Birdland one summer.   John Coltrane’s classic quartet regularly appeared at Birdland in the early 1960’s, recording “Live at Birdland.”  And, the renowned ‘Symphony Sid” Torin made a name for himself broadcasting live from Birdland to radio listeners all along the Eastern Seaboard.

            In the writings of “Birdland History” you can find that “In its first 5 years of existence, more than 1,400,000 paid the $1.50 admission to make their way either to the right for the Cabaret Section or to the left for the intense listening bullpen to hear Birdland’s attractions and sample its atmosphere.”  The large number of visitors to Birdland is easily understood, when one considers the quality of the musicians who played there.  If one was to post the names out of Birdland’s Booking Ledger, it would read like a “Who’s Who of Jazz”: Charlie Parker Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Stan Getz, Erroll Garner, Slide Hampton, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Horace Silver and Art Blakeys Jazz Messengers, including Freddy Hubbard, JJ Johnson, and many, many others.

            There are also many Birdland stories that are told to jazz fans, like the one about Bud Powell inviting a young Jackie McLean on stage one night in 1951, and the rest is history.  Then there’s the infamous story about the famous author Norman Mailer?  It seems that Mailer was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct after he was refused credit for his bill at Birdland.  It’s claimed that he tried to pay his bill with a credit card, although the law prohibits the purchase of liquor on credit.  Not many jazz fans know about the jazz group referred to as the “Birdlanders”.  Some of you might say, “Oh, he’s got to be making this up”.  But, I learned that there was in fact a group of all-star jazz musicians, who united in New York, and recorded several bebop-oriented sessions in 1954.  They were called Birdlanders because they were regulars at Birdland.  Some of the sessions produced by the group at Birdland included J.J. Johnson or Kai Winding on trombone; Al Cohn on tenor sax; Milt Jackson on vibes and piano; Tal Farlow, guitar; Gene Ramey, Percy Heath, or Oscar Pettiford, upright bass; and Max Roach, Charlie Smith, or Denzil Best, drums.  It’s my understanding that those 1954 sessions resulted in three LPs on the Period label.  And, in 2000, were reissued on CD by Fantasy Records for its Original Jazz Classics series: The Birdlanders, Vol. 1 and The Birdlanders, Vol. 2.  I am attempting to track down and purchase both volumes. 

            Stay tuned!  Hopefully, I’ll be successful in tracking down these CDs.
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Thursday, July 14, 2011

"BIRDLAND" - Jazz Corner of the World (Part I)

          This Blog is about a very special jazz venue which has its’ own very special place in jazz history, and it would be difficult to confuse the name with Lakeland, Thailand, Land O’ Lakes or any other familiar place that has as part of its’ name “…land.”  It’s a place that holds precious memories for me and millions of others, who at some time visited New York City to listen to some great jazz. 

            It’s been more than sixty-years that the legendary Birdland Jazz Club opened its doors for business.  December 1949 is the date that will go down in jazz history as being the month and year the famous club began promoting great jazz.  Bebop Master Charlie Parker, whose fans and musician friends lovingly called “Bird,” the short form of his actual nickname “Yardbird,” was how Birdland got its name.  It’s said that “Bird” was the sole inspiration for the Club because of his innovative behavior and outright genius of the alto saxophone.  

            Birdland was originally located in the heart of the jazz center of (The Big Apple) New York City at Broadway and 52nd Street.  Several other jazz clubs were located in and about the vicinity, such as The Royal Roost, but Birdland was the place to be seen and heard. 

From about 1949 through the 1960’s, New York City was known for its jazz clubs,  and many  jazz musicians that we listen to today, got his or her start in any one of them.  I can vaguely remember (at age 15 years), the excitement about Birdland.  My parents, who were jazz aficionados and regulars at the Savoy Ballroom and Royal Roost, seemed to talk to their friends about nothing else… “Birdland this and Birdland that.”  So, it was only natural for me at such a curious age to wonder about this place everyone was talking about.

            As the years went on, I became more involved with “Jazz”.  I started out listening to tenor saxophonist Hal Singer’s “Cornbread” and guitar player Tiny Grimes’ “Bewildered”; then there was the “Hucklebuck.” Not all of the music I was listening to was considered jazz, but it was definitely on the cusp.  It was not too long before, I was knee-deep into “Bebop”, and began to “bite at the bit” to make my first visit to what many also referred to as the “House that Bop built”… Birdland.  Friends of mine, who had ventured into the “Big Apple” for their exposure to this new music, explained to me that in order to be truly “Hip”, I had to travel over to the “Big Apple” and make a set at Birdland.

            It was graduation night in June 1952, when I asked my father if I could borrow his car to take me and some friends from Newark, New Jersey to New York City.  It was a black, shiny 1950 Ford with white wall tires, which my parents had purchased a few months prior.  I can’t help but chuckle now, when I think of it.  He just looked at me as if I had just landed on earth from another planet.  “No Rick, I don’t think you’re ready to drive to New York City”.  And, that was it.  I must have been out of my mind to even have asked him to use the car to go to New York.  I had only gotten my driver’s license the month before and was totally unprepared for what would have faced me on a car trip to New York City.  To mention a few of the obstacles, there was the highway traffic on Highway S-3, the Lincoln Tunnel, New York traffic, including New York cabbies…thanks Dad for the rejection!