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!

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