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.