February 26, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Birdland
Birdland, named after Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, opened on December 15, 1949 at 52nd and Broadway in Manhattan.
Opening night was a star-studded affair billed as an All American Jazz Festival featuring a Journey through Jazz. The idea was to present the entire history of jazz up to that point and featured Max Kaminsky, Hot Lips Page, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Lennie Tristano and Stan Getz.
For the next fifteen years the club played host to all the jazz greats and became one of the most well known nightclubs in the world.
The awning over the entrance had “Birdland” emblazoned on both sides. You entered street level and descended down into the basement where you would find an unusually large venue that could seat 400. The walls were decorated with murals of famous jazz personalities.
In honor of the clubs’ namesake, opening night featured live birds in cages suspended from the ceiling but they lasted only a few weeks due to lack of appropriate ventilation.
There was a long bar with red and white checkered tablecloths and a fenced in bullpen known as the peanut gallery where no alcohol was served and underage patrons could watch and listen.
The club was owned by several partners with the infamous Morris Levy being the most visible. Levy had been part of the group that opened the Royal Roost several months earlier.
The club’s manager was Oscar Goodstein and the diminutive Pee Wee Marquette, the doorman and master of ceremonies.
Not long after Birdland opened Symphony Sid Torin moved over from Bop City and began broadcasting from the club with his “all night, all frantic” show on WJZ. He broadcast from a booth in the back of the club which featured the latest jazz records alternating with live music from the stage.