“Sittin’ In: Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s” Vol. 2 — Birdland

June 1st, 2021

 

.

 

.

…..Jeff Gold’s book Sittin’ In: Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s is a visual history of many of the country’s most influential night clubs and ballrooms during jazz music’s golden era.

…..The book is centered around a collection of memorabilia Mr. Gold discovered, and features photographs of club patrons taken by in-house photographers, as well as postcards, handbills, menus, matchbooks, and posters.

…..In cooperation with Mr. Gold, Jerry Jazz Musician will occasionally publish a noteworthy excerpt from the book.   In this edition, Gold writes about New York’s Midtown Manhattan club Birdland, and shares photographs and memorabilia from his collection.

.

.

___

.

.

 

Birdland

1678 Broadway, Just North of West Fifty-Second Street

.

.

 

 

Birdland souvenir photograph with frequent patron Marlon Brando (right) posing with clubgoers, date unknown

.

___

.

 

…..

…..On December 15, 1949, former [midtown Manhattan jazz club] Royal Roost partner Morris Levy opened Birdland with his brother Irving, manager Oscar Goodstein, and six other partners.  The three-hundred-seat basement club, named in honor of bebop giant Charlie “Bird” Parker, opened with A Journey thru Jazz 1920-1950, showcasing the history of jazz as played by some of those who had created it:  trumpeters Max Kaminsky and Hot Lips Page, up-and-comers Stan Getz and Lennie Tristano, Lester Young, Harry Belafonte, and Parker.

…..Birdland historian Leo T. Sullivan wrote, “Many jazz clubs opened and closed over the many years, but never has there been a venue showcasing such incredible jazz greats on a nightly basis as the ‘Jazz Corner of the World,’ Birdland.”

…..The club featured a long bar on one side, booths on the other, and tables running down in the middle.  Above the booths were portraits of jazz stars painted by Diana Dale, the club’s hatcheck girl.  For those too young to drink or who came only to listen, there was the “bullpen” or “peanut gallery,” a section to the right of the bar separated from the rest of the club by a barrier.  When the club first opened, there were birdcages with live finches hanging from the ceiling; unfortunately, the noise and smoke proved too much for the birds, who lasted only about a month.

…..Birdland didn’t have a dance floor, and the stage was small enough that on occasion, if a large group was playing, the piano was placed on the floor.  Nearby was a radio booth where Symphony Sid broadcast nightly to listeners on the East Coast, from midnight until six o’clock in the morning.  Pee Wee Marquette, standing three feet, nine inches tall, was the clubs notorious emcee, most famous for intentionally mispronouncing the name of any performer who refused to tip him.

…..Birdland booked top acts for six-night runs, with Mondays reserved for jam sessions.  As one of the main bebop venues, the club played host to Parker as well as Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis.  Count Basie, a favorite of Morris Levy’s, made Birdland his New York base of operations and signed to Levy’s record label, Roulette, in the late 1950s.  The club did well with women vocalists, booking Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dinah Washington.  Other musicians who appeared included Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Stan Getz, and Dave Brubeck.  George Shearing wrote the standard “Lullaby of Birdland” after Levy asked him to compose a theme song for Symphony Sid’s broadcasts.

…..As the club’s popularity grew, it became a draw for celebrities; patrons included Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Sugar Ray Robinson, and even classical music icon Igor Stravinsky.  Eventually the Birdland name gained enough cachet that the club was able to sponsor national – and, in at least one case, international – concert tours during the mid-to late 1950s.

…..While Levy was committed to integration and Birdland an oasis of sorts from racism, things could be different just outside the door. On August 15, 1959, Miles Davis, who was performing with his quintet at the club, stepped outside to take a break.  In his autobiography, Davis recalled: “I had just walked this pretty white girl named Judy out to get a cab.  She got in the cab, and I’m standing there in front of Birdland wringing wet because it’s a hot, steaming, muggy night in August.  This white policeman comes up to me and tells me to move on…’Move on, for what?  I’m working downstairs.  That’s my name up there, Miles Davis,’ and I pointed my name on the marquee all up in lights.  He said, ‘I don’t care where you work, I said move on!  If you don’t move on I’m going to arrest you.’  I just looked at his face real straight and hard, and I didn’t move.  Then he said, ‘You’re under arrest!’

…..A fight ensued, with Davis badly beaten by three officers before being hauled off to jail, charged with disorderly conduct and the assault of a police officer.  The story was widely reported, with photographs of a bloodied Davis, and eventually the charges were dropped, but Davis never forgot the incident.  “[It] changed my whole life and my whole attitude again, made me bitter and cynical again when I was really starting to feel good about the things that had changed in this country.”

…..Many legendary live albums were recorded at the club, including Art Blakey’s two-volume A Night at Birdland (1954), Count Basie’s Basie at Birdland (1961), and most of John Coltrane’s Live at Birdland (1964).  But as rents in the area rose, running a profitable jazz club became increasingly difficult, and in June 1964, Birdland filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, closing for good the next year.

…..The club’s legacy was boosted in 1977 by Josef Zawinul’s song “Birdland,” featured on his band Weather Report’s bestselling album Heavy Weather.  In 1980, the Manhattan Transfer’s version of the song won a Grammy Award, and in 1991, Quincy Jones’s version won two more.  In 1986, a new club with the Birdland name opened in the midtown theater district.

.

.

___

.

.

Birdland postcard, 1950s

.

.

Birdland handbill for a 1955 engagement with Al Hibbler, Dizzy Gillespie, and Gil Melle

.

.

Handbill advertising 1956 Birdland shows with Count Basie, Johnny Smith and Bud Powell

.

.

Birdland menu, date unknown

.

.

Birdland souvenir photograph with Dizzy Gillespie posing with fans, date unknown

.

.

Birdland souvenir photograph, date unknown

.

.

Jazz DJ Symphony Sid pictured on the inside of a Birdland photo folder along with other notable jazz figures.

.

.

 

Concert tour program, 1955

.

.

Concert tour program, 1956

.

.

 

Concert tour program, 1957

.

.

Birdland photo folder, date unknown

.

.

 

___

.

.

 

 

Listen to a 1954 recording of Sarah Vaughan (with Clifford Brown on trumpet) singing George Shearing’s composition “Lullaby Of Birdland.”   

.

.

Listen to the 1977 recording of Weather Report playing Josef Zawinul’s composition “Birdland”

.

.

___

.

.

Click here to read Vol 1, on the Savoy Ballroom

Click here to read Vol 2, on Birdland

Click here to read Vol 3, on Club Ubangi

Click here to read Vol 4, Four Harlem Nightspots

Click here to read Vol 5, on Connie’s Inn and Smalls’ Paradise

.

Click here to read our interview with Jeff Gold

.

.

___

.

.

photo courtesy Jeff Gold

Jeff Gold is a Grammy Award-winning music historian, archivist, author, and executive.  Profiled by Rolling Stone as one of five “top collectors of high-end music memorabilia,” he is an internationally recognized expert who has consulted for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Museum of Pop Culture, and various record labels and cultural institutions.  He has also appeared as a music memorabilia expert on PBS’s History Detectives and VH1’s Rock Collectors.  His other books include 101 Essential Rock Records: The Golden Age of Vinyl from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols and Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges/As Told by Iggy Pop.  He own the music memorabilia website Recordmecca.com and writes about topics of interest to collectors on its blog. 

Follow Jeff on Twitter at @recordmecca or on Instagram at @recordmecca.

 

.

.

___

.

.

 

All text and images — unless otherwise noted — © Jeff Gold.  Excerpted from Sittin’ In:  Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s (Harper Design).  Published by permission of Jeff Gold.

.

.

.

 

 

 

 

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

painting of Clifford Brown by Paul Lovering
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Spring/Summer, 2024 Edition...In this, the 17th major collection of jazz poetry published on Jerry Jazz Musician, 50 poets from all over the world again demonstrate the ongoing influence the music and its associated culture has on their creative lives.

(featuring the art of Paul Lovering)

Publisher’s Notes

photo by Rhonda Dorsett
On turning 70, and contemplating the future of Jerry Jazz Musician...

The Sunday Poem

photo via NegativeSpace
“Why I Play Guitar” by C.J. Trotter...

Click here to read previous editions of The Sunday Poem

Poetry

“Revival” © Kent Ambler.
If You Want to Go to Heaven, Follow a Songbird – Mary K O’Melveny’s album of poetry and music...While consuming Mary K O’Melveny’s remarkable work in this digital album of poetry, readings and music, readers will discover that she is moved by the mastery of legendary musicians, the wings of a monarch butterfly, the climate and political crisis, the mysteries of space exploration, and by the freedom of jazz music that can lead to what she calls “the magic of the unknown.” (with art by Kent Ambler)

Interview

The Marvelettes/via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?: An Oral History of the 60’s Girl Groups...Little is known of the lives and challenges many of the young Black women who made up the Girl Groups of the ‘60’s faced while performing during an era rife with racism, sexism, and music industry corruption. The authors discuss their book’s mission to provide the artists an opportunity to voice their experiences so crucial to the evolution of popular music.

Book Excerpt

An excerpt from Emily Jon Tobias’ MONARCH: Stories, and a reflection on our friendship

In Memoriam

photo via Wikimedia Commons
A few words about Willie Mays...Thoughts about the impact Willie Mays had on baseball, and on my life.

Poetry

photo of Earl Hines by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Pianists and Poets – 13 poems devoted to the keys...From “Fatha” Hines to Brad Mehldau, poets open themselves up to their experiences with and reverence for great jazz pianists

Art

photo of Archie Shepp by Giovanni Piesco
The Photographs of Giovanni Piesco: Archie Shepp...photos of the legendary saxophonist (and his rhythm section for the evening), taken at Amsterdam's Bimhuis on May 13, 2001.

Poetry

CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
“On Coltrane: 4th of July Reflections” – a poem by Connie Johnson

Click here to read more poetry published in Jerry Jazz Musician

Calling All Poets!

News about a Jerry Jazz Musician printed jazz poetry anthology, and information about submitting your poetry for consideration

Short Fiction

pickpik.com
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #65 — “Ballad” by Lúcia Leão...The author’s award-winning story is about the power of connections – between father and child, music and art, and the past, present and future.

Click here to read more short fiction published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Interview

photo of Louis Jordan by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 – 1960...Richards makes the case that small group swing players like Illinois Jacquet, Louis Jordan (pictured) and Big Jay McNeely played a legitimate jazz that was a more pleasing listening experience to the Black community than the bebop of Parker, Dizzy, and Monk. It is a fascinating era, filled with major figures and events, and centered on a rigorous debate that continues to this day – is small group swing “real jazz?”

Playlist

photo of Coleman Hawkins by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“The Naked Jazz Musician” – A playlist by Bob Hecht...As Sonny Rollins has said, “Jazz is about taking risks, pushing boundaries, and challenging the status quo.” Could there be anything riskier—or more boundary-pushing—than to stand naked and perform with nowhere to hide? Bob’s extensive playlist is comprised of such perilous undertakings by an array of notable woodwind and brass masters who have had the confidence and courage (some might say even the exhibitionism) to expose themselves so completely by playing….alone.

Feature

Excerpts from David Rife’s Jazz Fiction: Take Two – Vol. 3: “Louis Armstrong”...A substantial number of novels and stories with jazz music as a component of the story have been published over the years, and the scholar David J. Rife has written short essay/reviews of them. In this third edition featuring excerpts from his book, Rife writes about four novels/short fiction that include stories involving Louis Armstrong.

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

The cover of Wayne Shorter's 2018 Blue Note album "Emanon"
Trading Fours, with Douglas Cole, No. 20: “Notes on Genius...This edition of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film is written in response to the music of Wayne Shorter.

Click here to read previous editions of Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

In Memoriam

Hans Bernhard (Schnobby), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
“Remembering Joe Pass: Versatile Jazz Guitar Virtuoso” – by Kenneth Parsons...On the 30th anniversary of the guitarist Joe Pass’ death, Kenneth Parsons reminds readers of his brilliant career

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Jazz with a Beat: Small Group Swing 1940 – 1960, by Tad Richards

Click here to read more book excerpts published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Jazz History Quiz #172

photo of Teddy Wilson by William Gottlieb
Teddy Wilson once said this about a fellow jazz pianist:

“That man had the most phenomenal musical gifts I’ve ever heard. He was miraculous. It’s like someone hitting a home run every time he picks up a bat. We became such fast friends that I was allowed to interrupt him anytime he was playing at the house parties in Toledo we used to make every night. When I asked him, he would stop and replay a passage very slowly, showing me the fingering on some of those runs of his. You just couldn’t figure them out by ear at the tempo he played them.”

Who is the pianist he is describing?

Community

photo via Picryl.com
.“Community Bookshelf, #2"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work

Coming Soon

An interview with Larry Tye, author of The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie Transformed America; an interview with James Kaplan, author of 3 Shades of Blue: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and the Lost Empire of Cool; A new collection of jazz poetry; a collection of jazz haiku; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Ella Fitzgerald/IISG, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Click to view the complete 25-year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Judith Tick on Ella Fitzgerald (pictured),; Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz on the Girl Groups of the 60's; Tad Richards on Small Group Swing; Stephanie Stein Crease on Chick Webb; Brent Hayes Edwards on Henry Threadgill; Richard Koloda on Albert Ayler; Glenn Mott on Stanley Crouch; Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake; Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive