Blue Bird Inn Collection

Detail of image of payroll ledger listing the two house band leaders at The Bird in 1948, Jimmy Caldwell and Phil Hill.

Overview

In early 2020, the Historic Designation Advisory Board (HDAB) of the City of Detroit will decide whether or not to recommend creating a local Historic District for the Legendary Blue Bird Inn (The Bird). To support their decision, we have organized source materials below from our collections and online that we hope will begin to tell The Bird’s story in a local, national, and international context. This is very much a work in progress. If you have any questions, edits, or additions, please contact us at info@detroitsound.org or call direct at 313-444-8242. 

Timeline

Waawiyatanong or “Where the Water Goes Around”: “The land on which Detroit sits was not discovered, rather it has been occupied by Indigenous peoples long before Western written documented history….” via “Resolution In Support of Recognizing Detroit’s Original Name on Indigenous Peoples Day” (September 26, 2019)

— — — — — — — —

1832 Greenfield Township created.

1860 Map via Library of Congress

1906 Area annexed to Detroit.

1923 The Nacirema, “the oldest African American men’s social club in Michigan” moves into a two-story house nearby at 30th and Milford. (City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board)

1934 Jazz performances begin at what would eventually be called Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. (City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board 2015): “One other Detroit jazz club—the Blue Bird Inn, deserves mention as having rivaled Baker’s Keyboard Lounge for several decades. Also founded in the mid-1930s, the Blue Bird Inn, located at 5021 Tireman Avenue, was significant as an African American owned institution, and also for attracting national acts of the same level as those drawn to perform at Baker’s. The Blue Bird Inn, however, stopped offering live music by the 1970s, and its building, though still standing, is presently vacant. This leaves Baker’s Keyboard Lounge as the most outstanding extant example of Detroit’s jazz heritage of the 1930s through the 1950s.”

1937 August 12: Building permit pulled by William Dubois at 5021 Tireman. Building use described as “beer garden.” (City Permit)

1938 St. Cyprian’s Church nearby at 28th and Milford opens. (City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board)

1939 United Sound Systems Recording Studios moves to 5840 Second Avenue. (City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board)

1941c: “I lived on the next street over from the Bluebird [sic] and down three blocks. When they started having music there, it was mostly friends of mine, like Beans Richardson, Phil Hill; we all went to school together. They started doing music there before I turned 21, actually, in 1941, right before the war.” (Porter Crutcher, quoted in Dulzo 1998)

1941 October 15: Building permit pulled by Henry Black. Building use described as “restaurant and beergarden [sic].” (City Permit)

1944 January 6: Building permit pulled. Building use described as “beer tavern & restaurant.” (City Permit)

1948 April 27: Building permit pulled. Building use described as “tavern & restaurant.” “Alter to front of bldg. as per plan.” (City Permit)

1949 Advertisement in Michigan Chronicle describes Blue Bird Inn as “West Side Detroit’s Most Beautiful and Exclusive Bar.” Phil Hill and His Progressive Jazz featuring Eddie Jamison (Alto), Art Madigan (Drums), Jimmy Richardson (Bass), Abe Woodly, Vibes.” “[Robert] ‘Bob’ Dubois, Mgr.”

1949: October 1st Charlie Parker sits in at The Bird. Plays “Now’s The Time.” (Charlie Parker Chronology)

1950c “There were a lot of clubs that had music,” Barry [Harris] continues, “not only jazz but rhythm and blues. We played clubs, but mostly dances. The best club was the Bluebird [sic]. When I was a young cat, I used to go the Bluebird and stand out front; the bandstand was right by the front window. So I’d knock on the window and a cat named Phil Hill — he played organ and piano and he played good — he’d look up and see me and say, ‘Okay,’ and jump off the piano. I’d run in and play a tune and run back out. I celebrated my 21st birthday [1950] in the club just to make sure they knew I didn’t have to sneak in anymore. We really had a ball in that place.” (Bret Primack and Richard Dubin, “Detroit’s Triple Gift To The Jazz Piano World,” Contemporary Keyboard, December 1979)

1950c “I inherited the band from a fellow named Phil Hill. The original band there was just myself and (bassist) Beans Richardson and (pianist) Terry Pollard and Art Madigan, the drummer. And that gradually evolved into Elvin Jones replacing Art on the drums, and Thad [Jones] came in and that became the band that sort of set the jazz era from 1950 up to about ’54.” (Billy Mitchell quoted in W. Kim Heron, “They went to Europe to find a jazz festival; the music started here,” Detroit Free press, 24 August 1980)

1952 December 1: Building permit pulled. Building use described as “dance cabaret.” (City Permit)

1956 Advertisement in Detroit Free Press for Blue Bird Inn. “Now presenting The Piano Star formerly with Max Roach… Barry Harris Sextette.” “Your Host Clarence Eddins.”

1957 January 21: Building permit pulled. Building use described as “public establishment.” (source: City Permit)

1961 July 6: The Al Grey-Billy Mitchell Sextette performs at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (source)

1971 Jeffries Freeway (Interstate 96) between I-94 and Livernois constructed.

1982 Pianist and griot Harold McKinney (1928-2001) enters The Blue Bird Inn 1982. Screenshots from “The Detroit Jazz Legacy Concert” produced by Ron Alpern / Executive Producer Juanita Anderson / A production of WTVS and Jefferson Chalmers Concerts by the River / Detroit Educational Television.

1992 Clarence Eddins dies at the age of 74.

2015 Detroit Sound Conservancy and Wayne State Anthropology conduct archaeology at The Bird.

2016 Detroit Sound Conservancy salvages bandstand from building.

2019 Detroit Sound Conservancy purchases The Bird.

Blue Bird Local Alumni

Pepper Adams*, saxophone

Tribute page

Joe Alexander*, saxophone

Johnny Allen*, piano

Richard “Pistol” Allen*

Terri Allen*, voice

Willie Anderson*, piano

Albert Aarons*, trumpet

Dorothy Ashby, harp

“Miles [Davis] stayed here quite a while,” Dorothy Ashby recalls, “and influenced everybody around. And the Blue Bird got the Jones brothers often. Name jazzmen would come and sit in, and there were the great battles with instruments.” (Blonston 1967)

Will Austin*, bass

Clarence Beasley*, piano

Benny Benjamin*, drums

Gino Biandi*

George Bohanon*, trombone

Stanley Booker*, piano

Thomas “Beans” Bowles*, saxophone and flute

Joe Brazil*, saxophone

Tribute page to Joe Brazil

Roy Brooks*, drums

Oral history interview 1989

Detroit Jazz Alive Performance 1993

Paul Brown*, bassist

Don Bryson*

Kenny Burrell*, guitar

William “Billy” Burrell*, bass

Hindal Butts*, drums

Donald Byrd*, trumpet

The young Detroiters played the Blue Bird, the Club Sudan, the Rouge Lounge, the World Stage and any other club. For [Donald] Byrd and his band, “There were always ample place to play, more so than any city I can name. There are still more places to play, more so than any city I can name. There are still more places that accept jazz in Detroit than we have full-time jazz clubs in New York,” he says. “In Detroit, it wasn’t that you had to play rhythm and blues. You could play jazz, it was respected, and you got away with it.” (Blonston 1967)

Jimmie Caldwell

Lodi Carr*, voice

Betty Carter*, voice

James Carter, saxophone

Paul Chambers*, bass

Eddie Chambliss* (1936-1998), saxophone

Ralph Clark*, drums

Johnny Cleaver*, drums

Alice McLeod Coltrane*, piano

Kenn Cox*, piano

Austin Cromer*, voice

Cleophus Curtis*, trumpet

Devon Cunningham, percussion

Edwin “Youngblood” Davis

Will Davis*, piano

Lefty Edwards*, saxophone

Ernie Farrow*, bass

Otis “Candy” Finch*, drums

Tommy Flanagan*, piano

Eli Fontaine*, saxophone

Frank Foster*, saxophone

Curtis Fuller*, trombone

Frank Gant*, drums

Gerald Gates*

Joe Gordon*, trumpet

Said pianist Harold McKinney, who sat in but never played regularly with the band: “We used to have some really wild jam sessions and cutting contests (where musicians would take turns soloing, trying to best one another). Notably among them was a sort of horn duo between Joe Gordon and Thad Jones; those horn duos really created a lot of excitement.” (Quoted in Heron 1980)

Al Grey*, trombone

Wardell Gray*, saxophone

Willie Green*, bass

Charles Greenlee*, trombone

Johnny Griffin*, saxophone

Kenneth “Pancho” Hagood*, vocalist

Lamonte Hamilton*, saxophone

Oral History Interview

James Hankins*, bass

Sir Roland Hanna*, piano

Wilbur Harden*, trumpet

John Hare*, trombone

Billy Hardy*, drums

Barry Harris*, piano

Joe Harris*, drums

Teddy Harris, Jr.* (1934-2005), saxophone and piano

Wendell Harrison*, saxophone / clarinet

Monograph on Wendell Harrison via The Kresge Foundation (2018)

Marion Hayden, bass

Profile via Kresge Arts in Detroit (2016)

Louis Hayes* (b. 1937), drums

Joe Henderson*, saxophone

Warren Hickey*, saxophone

Roderick Hicks*, bass

Phil Hill*, piano

Lonnie Hillyer*, trumpet

Major “Mule” Holley*, bass

Tate Houston*, saxophone

Charles Humboldt*

Ali Muhammad Jackson*, bass

Alvin Jackson*, bass

Lawrence “Jacktown” Jackson*, drums

Milt Jackson (1923-1999), vibraphone*

Oliver “Bops Junior” Jackson*, drums

James Jamerson*, bass

Eddie Jamison*, saxophone

Dave Jones*

Elvin Jones, drums*

Felton Jones*, trumpet

Hank Jones*, piano

Thad Jones (1923-1986)*, trumpet

Archives at Living Jazz Archives, NJ

Sheila Jordan*, voice

Ralph Kirk*

Sylvester “Sonny Red” Kyner*, saxophone

Tribute Page to Sonny Red

Hugh Lawson*, piano

Yusef Lateef* (1920-2013), multi-instrumentalist

Ella “Black Beauty” Lee (1915-1976), vocals

Kirk Lightsey*, piano

Clifford Mack*, drums

Art Madigan*, drums

Al Martin*, bass

Malvin McCray*, saxophone

Harold McKinney* (1929-2001), piano

Ray McKinney*, bass

Earl “Shams” McKinney*

Charles McPherson*, saxophone

Freddie “Fru” Metcalf*

Willie Metcalf*, piano

Billy Mitchell* (1927-2001), saxphone

“It was the main jazz place of the era,” Mitchell once said. “It was the place where everybody who was anybody when they came to Detroit, that was where they played. For example, if Dizzy [Gillespie] was coming through town or Miles [Davis]. It was the musical center of Detroit.” — Heron, W. Kim, Detroit Free Press, Mitchell’s musical road leads home,” 1981

Sherman Mitchell*, trombone

Wild Bill Moore*, saxophone

Frank Morelli*, saxophone

“Moon” Mullins*

Bert Myrick*, drums

Stoney Nightengale*

Buford Oliver*, drums

Noel Paige*

Terry Pollard*, piano

Norman Potgrantz*

Sonny Red, saxophone

Tribute page to Sonny Red

Della Reese* (1931-2017), voice

Leon “Grits” Rice*, drums

James “Beans” Richardson*, bass

Eddie Robinson*

Claire Rocquemore*, trumpet

Frank Rosolino*, trombone

Ted Sheely*, piano

Clarence Sherrill*, bass

Alma Foster Smith*, voice and piano

Alma Smith oral history interview (1989)

Ted Sheely*, piano

Singing Sam Smith*

John Sofinney*

Ulysses “Skeeter” Spike*

Sonny Stitt*, saxophone

Gene Taylor*, bass

Lucky Thompson*, saxophone

Teri Thornton*

Joe Thurmond*

Donald Towns*

Rudy Tucich*, drums

Otis “Boo Boo” Turner*

Donald Walden*, saxphone

Doug Watkins*, bass

Julius Watkins*, French horn

Willie Wells*

Art Williams*

Earl Williams*

Lawrence Williams*, drums

Leon Williams*

Kenneth “Koki” Winfrey*, saxophone

Bill “Vishnu” Wood*

Woody Woodhouse*

Ade Woodley*, vibraphone

Rodney Whitaker, bass

Herman Wright*, bass

Wayne Wright*, guitar

Kiane Zawadi (Bernard McKinney) (1931-2004)*, trombone

Blue Bird National Alumni

Junior Cook, saxophone

John Coltrane, saxophone

Miles Davis*, trumpet

“One night Miles played a number so sweet in here you couldn’t even hear nothing else,” [Clarence] Eddins says. “It put you in a solitude thing. The place was packed and it sounded like nobody was in here. Sweet, deep, mellow tone — nobody was opening his mouth until after he was finished.” (Jim Dulzo, “Remembering the bebop at the Blue Bird,” Detroit News 26 September 1992)

Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet

Dexter Gordon, saxophone

Source: Barry Harris: The Spirit of Bebop

Thelonious Monk (1917-1982), piano

Source: Devon Cunningham (Phone Interview, 16 December 2019)

Charlie Parker, saxophone

Flip Phillips

Source: Barry Harris: The Spirit of Bebop

Horace Silver, piano

Jimmy Smith, organ

Sarah Vaughan, voice

Source: Barry Harris, American Black Journal (1981)

Nancy Wilson, voice

Source: Barry Harris: The Spirit of Bebop

Sources

* Programs, The Societie of the Culturally Concerned (founded by Barbara Cox in 1980) presents:

— “Detroit Salutes Clarence Eddins and his legendary Blue Bird Inn,” October 6, 1991. The original list was two lists, the first entitled “Bluebird [sic] Music Alumni” (“Still Swingin'”) and “Bluebird Emeritus” (“Over The Rainbow”). Miles Davis (1926-1991) was listed as “Honorary Emeritus.”

— “The Blue Bird Reunion 4 Honoring Barry Harris and Charles McPherson,” September 25, 1994.

— The list has been copy edited, annotated, alphabetized, and hyperlinked to Wikipedia wherever possible.

Works Cited

Gary Blonston. “The All-Detroit Jazz All-Stars,” Detroit Free Press Magazine, 17 September 1967.

Herb Boyd and Leni Sinclair. Detroit Jazz Who’s Who. Jazz Research Institute, 1984.

C. Lorin Brace VI. “‘Nothing Phone About it in Any Way’: Archaeological Analysis of the Blue Bird Inn Jazz Club in Post-War Detroit,” Masters Thesis, Wayne State University, May 2016.

Jim Dulzo. “Great Moments in Detroit Jazz,” Hour, September 1998.

The Westsiders, Remembering Detroit’s Old Westside: 1920-1950, 1997.

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