In 1959, Anne Phillips recorded Born to Be Blue (Roulette)—one of the finest female vocal albums of the year. I posted about it here in 2011 along with my conversation with Anne. A few days ago, Anne and I exchanged emails and she shared with me new lyrics she wrote to the melody of Lullaby of Birdland—along with a 2007 demo recording of her singing her new lyrics backed by Marian McPartland on piano.
The original song and lyrics were written in 1952 by George Shearing and George David Weiss as a tribute to the famed jazz club. Birdland opened in December 1949 on Broadway, between 52nd and 53d St. It had been known previously as the Clique Club and was re-named Birdland in honor of Charlie "Bird" Parker. But as jazz styles and tastes changed, Birdland closed in 1965 after the club went bankrupt. The space was aquired by R&B singer Lloyd Price, who renamed it The Turntable.
Here's the email Anne sent along...
"A few weeks ago I was walking home from the jazz club Iridium and thinking about what New York was like when I first came to town from Pennsylvania. As I walked past what is now a “gentleman's club” called Flashdancers, I sighed and said out loud to no one in particular, 'And that used to be Birdland.' From out of the dark, a quiet voice responded, 'And I used to be Pee Wee Marquette.'
"Startled, I looked up and saw a very tall, thin white man. It was the doorman of Flashdancers, holding his hand down to the size of Pee Wee—about 3-foot, 9-inches. I stopped and said, 'Do you remember Birdland?' We got into a wonderful conversation about the club, where Pee Wee worked after Birdland closed, how he'd purposefully botch the musicians' names if they didn’t lay a little bread on him, and so on. 'New York has changed so much but I love the history,' he said. [Photo above of Birdland's greeter "Pee Wee" Marquette, taken in front of a Hawaiian restaurant a few blocks south of Birdland on Broadway after the club closed]
I was tempted to start singing my lyric to Lullaby of Birdland—called I Remember Birdland—but it seemed little inappropriate. I wrote the lyric in 2007, the year I recorded my Ballet Time CD. I was at Nola Recording Studio with Marian as she recorded her song In the Days of Our Love. I had just finished writing the Birdland lyrics and sang them for her. Marian said, 'Come on, let's do it!' We went over the piano and wrapped it in one take, leaving me with a priceless demo! Bless Marian's heart! [Photo above of Anne Phillips and Marian McPartland in 2007]
"You should have seen [trombonist] Benny Powell's face when he heard it! And Clark Terry's. But up until now, it has just made the rounds among a few friends. Please feel free to share the recording with JazzWax readers."
I remember Birdland in its day
Where the cats came to play
Down the steps to Birdland
Into a cavern of jazz, evermore unsurpassed
Sippin’ beer and listening, almost free
In the peanut gallery
Do you not concur, man
That was the hippest in jazz history
Bud, Charlie Mingus and Basie
Just twenty feet away
All introduced by Pee Wee
A little ‘dust’ he’ll get your name right, they say
There may be other clubs that use the name
But I’ve been there, they’re not the same
I remember Birdland and I will treasure it
All my life long
Carman and Ella and Sarah
They taught us all how to sing
Oh, what a fabulous era
Long, long before Elvis was king
Mr. Shearing wrote this lullaby
An anthem to a time gone by
I’ll remember Birdland and swing it
Every little songbird will sing it
I’ll remember Birdland ‘til the end of time
@2007 Anne Phillips
Wall Street Journal alert. If you dig baeeball, then you are likely familiar with statistics guru Bill James. In today's paper (go here or please pick up a copy), I spoke with Bill about his home in Kansas and the one quirk that drives him nuts. [Photo of Bill James above by Ryan Nicholson for The Wall Street Journal]