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The Save Birdland Benefit Concert got underway this evening with an introduction from President Bill Clinton. “There is a light at the end of this tunnel. What a tragedy it would be to lose one of our great venues now when the end of the long nightmare is within reach,” he appealed. “I know all of us want places like Birdland to be a part of our lives for the rest of our lives.”
President Clinton emphasized the role the club has played for up-and-coming artists. “Ever since Birdland’s namesake, Charlie Parker, headlined its opening in 1949, it’s been one of the most important jazz clubs in the world, giving a stage to establish legends and up-and-comers alike,” he said. “I think Parker would have liked that. He was a young man in 1949.”
Clinton said the pandemic had taken a huge toll on small businesses, and especially on venues that rely on an audience to hear live music or see a play. He continued: “The desire to experience great art in person is a big reason why so many of us have taken this pandemic so seriously. So that we can, once again, safely enjoy the things we loved — the things that connect us to our common humanity and make life more beautiful.”
The President was just the start of an evening full of stars including Whoopi Goldberg, Sting, Clive Davis, Audra McDonald, Leslie Odom Jr, Elvis Costello, Erich Bergen, Bebe Neuwirth, Wynton Marsalis, and many more.
The Save Birdland fundraiser was launched on the heels of a successful Save West Bank Café telethon by producers Tom D’Angora, Michael D’Angora, and Tim Guinee. The GoFundMe for Birdland has already passed its initial target of $250,000 — but donations continue to pour in from around the globe as lovers of “the Jazz Corner of the World” hear about the club’s struggle to survive.
Messages of support came from some of the world’s biggest names in music.
Billy Joel said: “The pandemic has been brutal for music venues around the country. With few exceptions, they have not been able to put on shows. The pandemic shutdown has been particularly difficult for jazz clubs, which rely on live performances to survive. When I heard that the legendary jazz club, Birdland, was in danger of closing due to the pandemic, my heart sank. It’s times like this where music is more important than ever. I ask you to please give what you can to help this American Culture treasure so it can continue to live on and continue to swing.”
“Birdland is one of my favorite clubs in New York. It’s so important to the music industry and let’s help keep it going,” appealed Sir Rod Stewart.
Liza Minnelli told of her love for the club, particularly Jim Caruso — the Cast Party host at the club for nearly 20 years. “Cast Party is exactly how I pictured New York nightlife when I dreamed of living in New York City! When I was a child, my mother took me to see Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway, and it changed my life! I wanted to be one of those kids on that stage! From then on, it was all about being a New Yorker,” she enthused. “When I stepped into Birdland, I knew I was home! Jim Caruso’s Cast Party reminded me of the parties we’d give at the house, when everyone would sing around the piano. It’s a success because of Jim and the affection the theatrical community feels for him. He’s talented and funny and tenacious and bright, and I love him.”
“The giants: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Tony Bennett, Ella, Dizzy, Liza, Miles, Quincy… are just a few of the giants that performed on the stage of Birdland. History was made — legends were born. What I would have given to witness some of those moments, and my hope is there will be many more,” shared Michael Bublé. “So many places that make New York, the City that we love, have closed during this last year. It’s been a difficult one for all of us, but I hope and pray that Birdland can be rescued because it was HOME to the greatest musical and jazz talents that ever lived. It deserves to be saved.”
Birdland’s long-time owner Gianni Valenti was more than grateful for the support. “It doesn’t happen often, but words fail me,” he said. “The love and support the community has shown to me and Birdland has filled me with absolute awe. When you’re in the middle of carrying on day-to-day business, you forget that you might be making a difference. But Birdland has clearly done that for thousands of people, and I’m so proud.”