‘We can’t have a New York without Birdland’: Iconic NYC jazz club rallies to stay open amid pandemic

Manhattan

MANHATTAN — What better way to open the Save Birdland fundraiser than hearing the legendary Catherine Russell sing its anthem: the lullaby of Birdland.

Birdland, the jazz corner of the world, has been around for longer than most of us can remember.

It first opened in 1949 on 52nd Street with big names, including Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Billie Holiday. They performed regularly with Billy Taylor as the house pianist.

Like so many jazz clubs and music venues across the city, it’s been shuttered on West 44th Street since the pandemic began last March, except for a brief reopening last month.

Owner Gianni Valenti feared would have to close permanently until producer Tom D’Angora held a successful fundraising telethon to save the West Bank Café on Christmas Day.

“After a very successful West Bank Café campaign, some of my friends said ‘can you do the same for Birdland,’” D’Angira told PIX11 News. “Birdland can’t close. We can’t have a New York without Birdland. That’s impossible.”

So Tom and Michael D’angora put together another hugely successful fundraiser with more than 100 stars from many professions besides jazz, including former President Bill Clinton, participating to save Birdland.

The GoFundMe page goal to Save Birdland was $250,000 and, as of Sunday night, it had already smashed the $360,000 mark.

Valenti, who has owned Birdland for 35 years said he was so grateful.

“The pandemic has thrown everything out of wack. My first thought was about my staff,” Valenti said. “The pandemic has been so tough for everyone. Your generosity has not been lost.”

The telethon means Tom D’Angora now has another successful fundraiser under his belt.

“The music community, the Broadway community, the live performance community, is the most generous exquisite group of people who ever existed,” D’Angora said.

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