What is Birdland?
Birdland has been the place in which many of the most important New York’s stars of the show were born and has represented the beginning of many artistic careers that have achieved worldwide fame, so this spectacular venue deserves all the recognition and fame that it has accumulated over the years.
This is a jazz club that began operations in December 1949 in Manhattan and was closed for a few years until its reopening in 1986. What happened was that a second location of the same name was opened in Manhattan and was not too far from the land on which the original club operated. Today, Birdland operates at the same facility as the headquarters of the famous local newspaper The New York Observer in the past.
Story about how the idea to create Birdland was born
During the 1920s, there were a lot of musicians who had to move to New York City because it was there that the biggest jazz movement of the moment was being produced. It could be said that the birthplace of the most famous jazz styles of the last decades was the Big Apple and its surroundings.
It was there where and when the musical career of Charlie Parker, affectionately known as Bird by most of his fans, emerged. Some time later, it would be this brilliant artist and talented saxophonist who would get one of the most popular jazz clubs in the city and the country in general named after him. This would be one of the many tributes received by Parker before and after his death in 1955.
Once Birdland was opened in the late 1940s, the saxophonist began performing there on a regular basis along with many other music legends of the moment such as Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young, Lennie Tristano, Maxie Kaminsky and many more. Although Birdland was named to honour Charlie, that did not keep the artist from having some friction with Oscar Goodstein, one of the founders of the venue, who said that Parker was constantly asking for too much money. As the story goes, this was the reason why the musician did not perform as many times as expected.
On the facade of the club, a neon sign could read Birdland, Jazz Corner of the World, making it clear what its customers would find once they entered the facility. Once inside, there was space for approximately 500 visitors and a full orchestra to lighten the mood that night. Birdland included a very long bar, spacious tables, stands with a wide variety of products, folding chairs, among other things. At that time, customers only had to pay a $1.50 fee to enjoy everything that the nightclub had to offer.
It went on to have so much prestige that it had among its visitors Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Gary Cooper, among other personalities from the entertainment world. It has taken so much popularity in those years that composer George Shearing dedicated one of his greatest creations entitled Lullaby of Birdland to it, which was also inspired by Charlie Parker as well as the name of the place.
The role of Birdland in Latin music
Just as Birdland contributed to the emergence of important careers in the jazz music scene, it also did the same with a good number of Latin music singers who saw this corner of New York as an opportunity to make their art known to other audiences. One of them was world-famous bandleader, composer and musician Tito Puente, who performed at the venue on several occasions and improvised many sets with Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton.
There is also the case of Tito Rodríguez, who made use of his great talent to record a spectacular live album entirely dedicated to Birdland and whose name was Live at Birdland. In addition, he featured incredible collaborations with great musicians such as Clark Terry, Al Conh, Zoot Sims, among others.
Another of the great Latin music artists who came to perform at this venue was Cuban bandleader, arranger and trumpet player Chico O’Farrill. The artist played and recorded at the club on a wekly basis about the time he already had his own orchestra called Afrocuban Jazz Orchestra. Arturo O’Farrill, worthy son of his father, also performs regularly at Birdland with his orchestra The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble.