Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton

The latest club to be rescued through crowdfunding, Birdland pays audiences back with online event.

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton

It is a lonely walk along Ninth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan these days. A neighborhood once brimming with life shows signs of wear, tear, and weakness, as storefront after storefront displays signs of dereliction. Favorite restaurants have shuttered, Mom and Pop shops have closed, and local businesses have failed to survive. These are the corona closures that represent a once-thriving district of New York City. If they are lucky, the passersby only look upon walls of glass camouflaged by butcher paper, while the sadder establishments remain exposed for all to see a lone table in the middle of the room while an A-Frame sign collecting dust rests up against a bar, and mail shoved under the door scattered across the dirty floor. This disconsolate sight pervades the vision of pedestrians passing through Hell's Kitchen, even though some of the luckier establishments continue to provide service and hold on for dear life.

Just off of Ninth Avenue on Forty-Second Street stands a restaurant with a nightclub in the basement. It is not a legendary establishment, it isn't even iconic - it is a simple neighborhood restaurant populated by the neighbors. Since it is close to the theaters of Broadway, Off-Broadway and the nightclubs of Midtown West, the neighbors who have frequented the eatery just happen to be the famed artists who fill the stages of those theaters, and their continued patronage of the neighborhood haunt has made The West Bank Cafe and Laurie Beechman Theatre essential to Midtown life. When this elegantly homey joint was threatened with the same fate as so many other local businesses along Ninth Avenue and its cross streets, those same artists of the stage stood up and cried No. Led by theater producer Tom D'Angora, a Gofundme campaign and YouTube telethon raised over three hundred thousand dollars in one week, and West Bank owner Steve Olson was able to say a Christmas miracle worthy of It's A Wonderful Life had occurred.

Two blocks up and one block over, a true New York City legend stands, today, facing the same fate that threatened The West Bank Cafe. It's funny to think of calling a building a legend, but the truth is that once a song has been written, once that song has been sung by Ella Fitzgerald, that building is a legend. The Birdland Jazz Club is, in fact, a legend in the nightclub industry - and not just for the jazz music that made the hotspot famous 1949; in recent years Birdland has welcomed Broadway singers, folk musicians, rock and rollers, comedy routines, and burlesque acts to the two stages that now provide entertainment for NYC nightlife. 365 nights a year you can find Native New Yorkers, naturalized Manhattan-ites, and tourists from all over the world filling the seats of the club, just one block away from Times Square. Well, Tom D'Angora was not about to let a little pandemic cause Birdland to close their doors forever; so he put on his fundraising hat once more and got to work. A Gofundme campaign was created and in only three days over one hundred thousand dollars had been raised - today that fundraising effort has reached $231,210. As Birdland owner Gianni Valenti and the face of Birdland Jim Caruso prepare for a virtual telethon to help save their home away from home, D'Angora's fundraising efforts have labeled him the guardian angel of the cabaret industry. This producer of plays has become the savior of song, single-handedly helming the rescue of these treasured clubs where the artists of the club scene gather and the lovers of their work come to revel in their artistry. In a private conversation with this writer, Mr. D'Angora had the following to say about his fundraising efforts:

Tom, you are single-handedly saving the cabaret and club scene of New York City. What is it about the small venue community and industry of Manhattan that has captured your heart and patronage so strongly?

It's not just me, I'm just the big mouth and the catalyst for these efforts, but I'm once again partnered with my husband Michael and the amazing actor/director Tim Guinee (who we couldn't do it without) and it truly takes a village. None of this would be possible without the entire community coming together and taking these causes on and I think that answers the second part of your question, it's the community that has captured my heart. I fell in love with these magical places and these magical people the minute I entered this magical city 21 years ago. "There's no people like show people", isn't just an iconic lyric, it is a fact. We have all been hit so hard during this pandemic, so many have lost so much, but the resilience and generosity we are seeing from everyone is so inspiring, how could I not pitch in and do my part. Small venues are the cornerstone and heartbeat of our entire industry, it is where you find the true stars, you can't hide out in production value on a small stage, you either got it or you ain't and I cherish that. I've seen Liza Minnelli at MSG and I've seen Liza Minnelli at Birdland, and when you get to see a genius like Liza with just the great Billy Stritch at the piano work a room with 100 people with the same mastery she works an arena with 20 thousand people and a full orchestra, well there are no words for it, there is no other experience like it in the world! I've had so many evenings like that at Birdland and at so many of the small venues in NYC and I want it to continue not only for me to enjoy, but for the next generation to be inspired and learn from. Because what I've learned in clubs and in small theaters is more valuable than any degree out there.

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton

Share with me your personal thoughts on the importance of saving Birdland.

It's so important!!!!!! I can't imagine NYC without Birdland and when you look at the outpour of support the campaign has received from all around the world in the past 72 hours, it's obvious I'm not alone. Think of the history, the amazing talent that has played there, talent that has been nurtured there, talent that has been born there. It means so much to so many artists. Birdland is "The Jazz Corner of the World", but the club has still been so inclusive and so welcoming of the Broadway community. Jim Caruso started the open mic thing decades ago and though open mics are all the rage now, Cast Party is still the gold standard. Not only that, but Birdland was smart enough to give the BRILLIANT Susie Mosher a permanent gig hosting The Line Up on Tuesday nights. It's become our regular place to go on Monday and Tuesday nights, when you think about how cool it is, that this iconic and hip jazz club also carved out a niche for us theater folk, it's pretty remarkable. I could literally write a book on the importance of having Birland stay in NYC, but the inclusion, love, and respect for all music really strikes a chord with me.

Nearly two weeks after the creation of the D'Angora's Gofundme page for Birdland, Misters Valenti and Caruso draw close to completion of the lineup for their virtual telethon, a lineup that includes former President Bill Clinton, Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr., and an impressive roster of guest artists including Chita Rivera, Jeff Daniels, Mercedes Ruehl, Wynton Marsalis, Melissa Leo, Norm Lewis, Matthew Broderick, Martha Plimpton, Mandy Patinkin, Giancarlo Esposito, Bebe Neuwirth, Clive Davis, Catherine Russell, John Pizzarelli, Veronica Swift, Randy Rainbow, John Bucchino, Erich Bergen, and Birdland family member Billy Stritch. Valenti and Caruso are, indeed, blessed by their association with Mr. D'Angora because he, husband Michale D'Angora, and the renowned Mr. Guinee are working tirelessly on Birdland's behalf, securing the participation of the guest artists from the Broadway community and the great Mr. Clinton, a personal friend of D'Angora's. The free streaming concert with more gifted celebrities coming on board each day is slated for January 24th at 7 pm on the Save Birdland website HERE. While the growing list of artists not only willing to but anxious to participate in the momentous display of solidarity for the monumentally revered club might appear slightly overwhelming, it is actually no surprise to this writer. Just listen to some of the things being said about Birdland and the family that has been born and bred within the club's walls.

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton"Birdland has been part of my musical lexicon for as long as I can remember. My dad working with Roy Haynes, Chet Baker, Miles Davis to name a few; my mom, aunt and uncle, collectively as Andy and The Bey Sisters, separately as solo acts or duos with Horace Silver; my own wonderful musical experiences onstage and in the audience; from its origins on 52nd St. to its re-emergence on 44th St. with the ardent and impassioned Gianni Valenti at its helm, Birdland is an International Treasure and I would sing outside on 44th St. to keep it from closing." --- Aisha de Haas

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton"Birdland is the quintessential ESSENTIAL New York staple in our entertainment community which has a historic world-renown that can't be underestimated. It carries on the legacy of the original Birdland that presented the great legendary performers who graced its stage from Charlie Parker to Ella Fitzgerald. And mindful of that important legacy Gianni Valenti, Ryan Paternite, and the wonderfully effervescent Jim Caruso have continued and expanded on that grand musical tradition in giving a haven, home, and warm embrace for veteran performers as well as a platform for new artists from the worlds of Jazz, Cabaret and Broadway. I and my performing family (including my sister Aisha de Haas and uncle, jazz legend Andy Bey) have benefited from the great generosity of Birdland's audiences so yes it's personal but I think it goes without saying that EVERYTHING must be done to save and preserve this beloved place which has given the New York and world community so much and should be able to continue to thrive and evolve in our present and post COVID world." -- Darius de Haas

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton"I always say that Birdland is my musical home. Growing up, my parents took me there to see fabulous jazz performers. While at NYU, I started going to the CastParty open mic night, just happy to sit and watch Jim Caruso host all of the eclectic talent NYC had to offer that week. Cut to 2008. I performed on their stage for the first time with the cast of Forbidden Broadway - a moment I'm happy is captured on video! Speaking to them afterward, Jim and Gianni were so very kind and I immediately felt the warmth and sense of family that sets Birdland apart from other venues. They encouraged me to come back and every time I did, they encouraged me to create my own solo show. (This was before I had any viral youtube videos, by the way!) I ultimately performed my first solo concert there, then 8 more. I've performed in 10 group concerts and have seen countless concerts as a friend and fan - all covering multiple genres of music. Birdland may be known for jazz, but the reason it has become so special and has touched so many people is because Gianni and Jim have ensured that it's a place where everybody is welcome. It's very heart and soul celebrates all music and musicians. We simply cannot afford to lose the heart and soul of the New York City music scene." -- Christina Bianco

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton"Birdland has always felt like my musical home and I know I am not alone. Gianni and the club have always been so supportive of the jazz and cabaret community, providing a state-of-the-art venue with the nicest staff and most receptive audiences. To lose this club would be incalculable - not just to our community but to the musical history of this city." -- La Tanya Hall

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton"Being able to tell people that you've done shows at Birdland gives you a sense of pride. You feel lucky to say you're a part of that iconic venue and history." -- Miss Coco Peru

Let's give the last word to the man who has played Birdland for many a year, with many a star... including himself - Billy Stritch:

BWW Feature: Birdland Jazz Club Plans Starry Benefit Concert Featuring Chita Rivera, Leslie Odom Jr., and Bill Clinton"I can't begin to imagine a New York without Birdland. It has been by far the most important venue in my career and I can't count up all the unforgettable evenings I've spent there, on and off stage. And the list of legendary performers who have graced the stages is seemingly endless. I have great memories of playing for Liza, Marilyn Maye, Christine Ebersole, Norm Lewis, Ann Hampton Callaway, and on and on and on. Not to mention the literally thousands of singers I've accompanied at Cast Party over the last 17 years. There's no way we can afford to lose such an iconic and important music venue!"

Visit the SAVE BIRDLAND website and see the January 24th concert at 7 pm EDT HERE

Contribute to the Save Birdland Gofundme campaign HERE


Featured at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More

Related Articles View More Cabaret Stories

From This Author Stephen Mosher