“This is Birdland,” proclaimed the banners at Camden Yards, the billboards around the Inner Harbor, and graphics on the Orioles’ website.
The jazz lover in me loved the reference to the famous Manhattan jazz club, first located at Broadway and 52nd Street when it opened in 1949. The club’s name is a reference to sax player Charlie Parker, or “Bird”, a regular performer at the club.
Prior to going to Camden Yards on Saturday, I knew that the 2010 Orioles–as well as Orioles teams of recent years–are a terrible team. Seeing them in action is truly sobering and serves as a sad testamant to its woeful ownership. While, as a Mets fan, I was most happy to take a sweep home courtesy of the Orioles, thank you very much, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for this pathetic team.
My husband found it very sad comparing the present-day team with glorious Orioles teams of yesteryear.
Not possessing his knowledge of the franchise’s history, I found it sad equating this group of underperforming players with the fine instrumentalists and singers that have enthralled fans of good music at the original Birdland as well as its present location on West 44th Street.
The list of jazz All Stars who appeared at the club in its early years reads like a veritable Who’s Who of Jazz:
Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bud Powell, Stan Getz, Lester Young, Erroll Garner, and many others.
The current location has presented these fine jazz artists, among countless others:
Oscar Peterson, Pat Metheny, Diana Krall, Roy Haynes, Michel Legrand, Dave Brubeck, Pat Martino, Tony Williams, Hank Jones, Michel Petrucciani, Maynard Ferguson, Freddie Hubbard, Marian McPartland, John Pizzarelli, Kurt Elling, Joe Lovano, McCoy Tyner, Michael Brecker, Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Jon Hendricks, George Shearing, James Moody, Yellowjackets, John Scofield, Phoebe Snow, Dave Holland, and Tito Puente, as well as the big bands of Chico O’Farrill, Duke Ellington, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Maria Schneider.
Many live recordings have been made at the club. John Coltrane: Live from Birdland is probably the most famous, although many others artists–Count Basie and Stan Kenton and their respective Orchestras, Charlie Parker himself, to name a few–have released recordings from performances at the club.
I know that a team’s PR department is given the unenviable task of promoting this team regardless of its record. I also realize that the reference to the illustrious jazz club is probably lost on all but a few of us. But for those of us with even a casual knowledge of the club’s history and of the countless legends of the jazz world, living and dead, who have performed to great acclaim there, the association is laughable.
Not only is the comparison unfair to these hapless underachievers, but it is also a false comparison.
Watching the Mets take hit after hit off of Kevin Millwood on Sunday and the apathetic way he returned to the mound following each one, I began to wonder if Camden Yards should’ve begun playing “Lullaby of Birdland” repeatedly between innings instead of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
Not only does one associate a lullaby with sleeping and lethargy, but how about these lyrics of George Shearing:
And there’s a weepy ol’ willow
He really knows how to cry
That’s how I cry in my pillow
Speaking of the live recordings made at Birdland, maybe the Orioles’ present incarnation is more deserving of a blues selection to be played between innings. Might I suggest the plodding, down-on-your-luck “Blues Backstage”, recorded live at Birdland by Count Basie and his Orchestra in 1961?
If the Orioles are ever able to turn things around and have a winning season, they could then revisit this album. I think a hard-playing, run-scoring, defensively crisp Orioles team could find no more representative up-beat, hard-driven music than “Whirly-Bird” on this very same album.
Something tells me, though, that the boys of Baltimore have a few more sets to play before they make this chart part of their regular rep.
Photo of Birdland by William Claxton