Smooth Jazz Sunday: Birdland

Today’s song may have been the first fusion composition to become a jazz standard. Written by Josef Zawinul, “Birdland” pays tribute to the famous jazz club on 52nd Street in New York City, named after jazz legend Charlie Parker. Performed by his band Weather Report, it became a big hit, and propelled the band to commercial heights it hadn’t seen. It has become such a classic song that many, many people have covered or played it, either live or on record. Many thanks to Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, Manolo Badrena and Alex Acuña for their great work on this amazing song.

The Manhattan Transfer also did a version of the song, but added vocals written by the great jazz vocalist Jon Hendricks. Their version also proved popular, and won two Grammy Awards: one for group member Janis Siegel’s vocal arrangment and one for Best Jazz Fusion Performance. Their version is a classic in its own right, and deserves its own place of honor. Along with Siegel, group members Cheryl Bentyne, the late Tim Hauser and Alan Paul really gave a great performance on this.

Leave it to Quincy Jones to take Birdland to a different place. From his Grammy-winning Album Of The Year Back On The Block, Jones paired the classic with a rap interlude by Kool Moe Dee and Big Daddy Kane called “Jazz Corner Of The World” (the title a callback to a lyric from The Manhattan Transfer’s version). The two hip-hop artists pay tribute to several jazz greats, introducing James Moody, Miles Davis, George Benson, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Zawinul himself. All of the above feature on Jones’ version of the song; which also won two Grammys for Best Instrumental Arrangement and for Best Jazz Fusion performance. For Fitzgerald and Vaughan, it would be their last recorded performances. This version has its charms, but for me it falls short of the previous two. And I say that knowing the greatness of Jones and all the talent involved.

So, go down them stairs and lose them cares. Where? Down in Birdland! I hope you enjoy this as much I did, and thanks for listening and reading.

40 Replies to “Smooth Jazz Sunday: Birdland”

  1. I haven’t heard version 2 and 3 before – I guess I still like the Weather Report version best but I think they do some interesting stuff with the Jazz Maestros on Quincy’s version. Hope you are enjoying your Sunday.😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am enjoying my Sunday, thank you for asking! If I had to pick, I’d probably go with the Weather Report first, primarily because I think it’s the version that first heard. The Manhattan Transfer version gives me goosebumps, though; the way Janis Siegel sings the lyrics, the harmonies and the part at the end where she does a vocal solo that sounds like a horn line from an old jazz tune-I just find that amazing to hear. I like how Quincy squeezes all of those legendary artists into that one song, I think only he could do that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If I remember correctly wasn’t Weather Report part of the jazz/fusion mid 70s mix? I do like their sound.
    What I enjoy most about The Manhattan Transfer is their on point vocal harmonies which is their calling card.
    Leave it to Q to grab the big guns & lend his flavor to Birdland.
    Great choice for some jazz on a smooth Sunday, T.Wayne. Cool post, Daddy-O! 😉😎

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Susan, you do remember correctly. By the time of “Birdland,” they had been around for about six years. The song and the album it came from, Heavy Weather, were the band’s biggest hits.

      The Manhattan Transfer version gives me goosebumps almost every time I hear it. The harmonies of course; but also Janis Siegel’s lead vocal is amazing. They all sound great though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course you did! You know I remember Twin!
        By the way, Susan might ask you about that long, long, long list of things that Lady G cannot be bothered with! ROTFLMAO!!!
        I told her that you had started keeping that thing updated! LOL!!!

        Liked by 1 person

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