During a recent trip to New York City, I finally struck off another item on my bucket list – go listen to jazz at the reverent Birdland club in NYC.
Birdland is a jazz club started in New York City on December 15, 1949. The original Birdland, which was located at 1678 Broadway, just north of West 52nd Street in Manhattan, was closed in 1965 due to increased rents, but it re-opened for one night in 1979. A revival began in 1986 with the opening of the second nightclub by the same name that is now located in Manhattan’s Theater District, not far from the original nightclub’s location. The current location is in the same building as the previous headquarters of The New York Observer.
The first time I knew about Birdland was from the Manhattan Transfer song called “Birdland”. It is a jazz/pop song written by Joe Zawinul of the band Weather Report as a tribute to Birdland and appeared on the band’s 1977 album Heavy Weather. The Manhattan Transfer won a Grammy Award with their 1979 version of the song, which had lyrics by Jon Hendricks.
These days, most of the patrons of Birdland come for the history and a good night out in the Theatre District of Midtown Manhattan. And with a first class lineup of performers, this place is always packed. I have to check online for tickets and booked before coming down to the venue. You have to buy a ticket for each set you want to listen to and there’s a minimum cover for each set for each patron.
I came without having my dinner round 30 min before the set. The minimum spend which was easily covered on drinks and food. They have quite a variety of food available on the menu, many quick one dish items like burgers, sandwiches and souther fried chicken and bar snacks like fries and olives. I settled for a gumbo as I did not want to be eating while I listened to the band.
For those not familiar with Creole gumbo, it is a thick stew served over rice and made with a roux (a mixture of butter and flour) and a wide variety of ingredients such as celery, peppers, okra, onions chicken, sausage and seafood. It was quite a huge bowl of New Orleans style seafood gumbo, a meal on its own.
And the band starts to play…
World-renowned jazz guitarist, singer and recent Grammy Award-winning producer John Pizzarelli was playing with his trio that evening I was there. I thoroughly enjoyed an evening of smooth jazz and classics that featured John Pizzarelli on guitar and vocals, Mike Karn on double bass, and Isaiah J. Thompson on the piano.
“James” is a guitar solo that was made famous by Pat Metheny that was inspired by another jazz great and guitarist, James Taylor. John Pizzarelli used to cover this in his teenage years, and finally he has made this recording in his latest album “Better Days Ahead“, now available on streaming services.
Unlike normal jazz clubs and bars, the ticket entitled you for one set only. You have to pay to stay for another set, and pay for more drinks. The set lasted around 45 min, and I was out of the place.
I have been to The Blue Note and now Birdland. heard the Manhattan Transfer live back in Greenville, South Carolina back in the 90s. and now the song that inspired my trip to Birdland, beautifully played by the original Weather Report with The Manhattan Transfer on the same stage at the Hollywood Bowl in 1982.
Birdland Jazz Club
315 West 44th St, New York, NY 10036
Tel : +1 (212) 581-3080
Visited in Aug 2022
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