Established in 1949, Birdland Jazz Club has been recognized as one of New York’s most iconic nightclubs, frequented by internationally-renowned celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, and Sammy Davis, Jr., and home to such jazz legends as Charlie “Bird” Parker (after whom it was named), Count Basie, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and many more. The most recent incarnation of “The Jazz Corner of the World” (as Parker christened its original location on Broadway) – a state-of-the-art venue, restaurant, and bar on West 44th Street – has just officially unveiled its newest performance space, Birdland Theater, downstairs below the main club.
Architect Michael Rait of BR Design Associates has created an intimate 100-seat room (along with an all-new backstage green room/lounge, dressing room, bathrooms, and kitchen) in the building’s former underground storage area, which will provide full bar service and a dinner menu of Italian-style regional cuisine for patrons to savor while enjoying performances by both established talents and emerging artists. Hung with cityscapes (by photographer Bill Westmoreland) that capture the motion and energy of Midtown Manhattan, the well-designed space and well-placed tables offer excellent sight-lines of the small platform stage from every seat in the house.
Programmed by Ryan Paternite and Jim Caruso, the variety of entertainment expands upon Birdland’s signature jazz shows, and presents everything from cabaret to dance, comedy, drag, and burlesque, and a recurrent “Cast Party: Broadway at Birdland,” featuring stars from the Great White Way and Off-Broadway productions. According to Birdland owner Gianni Valenti, “We’re so excited to bring a beautiful new performance space to the center of the theater district. Creating the Birdland Theater below the club ensures we provide the same quality services our loyal customers have come to expect, while introducing them to a new galaxy of music and performers under our banner. . . a venue where any type of entertainment can, and will, happen.”
At the official opening on Thursday evening, guests were given a tour of the backstage area and a taste of the types of acts and range of genres audiences can expect in the upcoming schedule, with appearances by famed musical director, composer, and pianist Billy Stritch, vocalist Natalie Douglas, Anastasia star Max von Essen, singer and trumpeter Benny Benack III, singer/songwriter Gabrielle Stravelli, and tap dancer Luke Hickey. All generated a mood of excitement and anticipation for what’s to come in the months, and years, ahead.