Thursday, March 1, 2007
A place to play the
music they love
Yardbird Suite jazz club celebrates
EDMONTON - For 50 years, the Yardbird
Suite club has offered a venue that jazz musicians from far and wide have
truly come to appreciate.
Chicago-based Ken Chaney still has fond memories of the original club,
which opened in 1957. Just 16 at the time, the pianist was the youngest of
a half-dozen musicians who co-founded the first Yardbird basement room
simply to have a place to play the music they loved.
"That was the whole idea," recalls Chaney. "Now I've played a lot of the
major jazz clubs all over the world, and the last time I was at the
Yardbird (two years ago) I was so impressed. It matches just about any
place I've been for what it offers. I don't think there's any other place
quite like it. They've never had a club like it in the United States. I'm
really proud that we started it and that it's still going strong."
He insists his experiences at the original Yardbird were essential in
"making up my mind what I wanted to do." He still performs and teaches in
Chicago and on tour, and sits on the board of the Jazz Institute Of
Chicago. This weekend he visits Edmonton again to join the Yardbird Suite
Allstars band, which kicks off a month of celebrations in the current club
at 11 Tommy Banks Way.
Chaney remembers seeing significant touring jazz names visit the original
Yardbird every month or so. American trumpeter Don Cherry was one of the
artists who impressed him, and when Nat (King) Cole made a concert
appearance here, Cole's band came to jam at the jazz club afterward.
"We almost always had decent crowds on the weekends with people who would
come there week after week after week. There were more jazz fans in
Edmonton at the time than people realized. Memberships started almost
right away with a discount deal, and that's how the original Edmonton Jazz
Society got started."
The original Yardbird locations nurtured the careers of many local
performers and hosted appearances from many stars of the golden age of
jazz . Since its opening in September 1984, the current Yardbird Suite,
run by the volunteer force of the Edmonton Jazz Society (incorporated in
1973), has listed another impressive collection of great players from
Bebop pioneer drummer Max Roach brought his band there in the mid-1980s,
while bassist Dave Holland -- whose name now regularly appears at the top
of the jazz polls -- has led his band in numerous appearances at the club.
Over the past 15 years or so, the current club has also tapped into
opportunities to host top touring groups from Europe like the ICP
Orchestra, Willem Breuker's Kollectief from the Netherlands, and Denmark's
New Jungle Orchestra.
In a recent e-mail from Copenhagen, NJO leader/guitarist Pierre Dorge
recalled his first experience playing the Yardbird in 1990.
"Our names were posted outside the club so we felt very welcome. I
remember a very enthusiastic audience, and some very nice helpful people
in the stage crew. We only had three horns, but I think we did a very good
and powerful show there, with drumming by Hamid Drake and John Tchicai's
sax. Everything worked that night to make it so spontaneous and
Among the many American performers who have played the current Yardbird,
New York singer Sheila Jordan has fond memories of her visits to the club.
"They treated me with such respect, it was like singing for my family. The
people who worked their were so great, and the fact that they were doing
all of this for the love of jazz with no payment blew my mind. And I loved
all the writings on the wall in the musician's green room. I have
especially fond memories of working there with (late Edmonton pianist)
Bill Emes. It's a very special club, superior to most clubs for the
fantastic vibes and the real jazz listening audience."
Check the website www.yardbirdsuite.com for details of month-long
anniversary celebrations, which will include visits from past performers
like vocalist Mark Murphy and New York saxophonist Lew Tabackin, who will
perform with the Edmonton Jazz Orchestra.
This Friday the Yardbird Allstars will include Tommy Banks, Ken Chaney,
Kent Sangster, Bob Tildesley, Bobby Cairns, Mike Lent and Blaine Wikjord
with an opening solo set from Chris Andrew.
Ex-Edmonton, Vancouver-based pianist George Blondheim opens with a solo
set Saturday, and that evening the all-star band will also include
appearances from singer Judy Singh, and Calgary jazz veterans Eric
Friedenberg and Al Muirhead.
© The Edmonton Journal 2007