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At One Year Old, The Bird Is Taking Wing

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At one year old, the Bird is taking wing



The Bird of Paradise jazz club is poised and ready to celebrate its first birthday. The venue has expanded from a nightspot with music on weekends, to a seven-night-a-week lineup, and it is now about to offer additional treats to its ever increasing clientele.

With the rookie jitters surmounted, owner Ron Brooks might be worrying about a sophomore jinx, but his plans for Year Two are to ensure the Bird’s ability not just to fly, but to soar.

It started out with Brooks’ own trio getting the club off the ground as the house band, with weekend entertainment booked on an experimental basis. That quickly progressed into performances five, six and, eventually, seven nights a week.

Lately, Brooks has been offering a more diverse lineup. His trio still plays every Wednesday and Thursday, Paul Vornhagen’s quintet can be heard every Monday, and Bill Heid is up on Tuesdays.

But the weekends have offered a veritable potpourri of jazz styles. Big name artists like Bob James, Valerie Capers and Mark Murphy have been heard, while others like Naima Shamborguer, Robert Pipho, the Mann Brothers, Tim Reis and Michael Higgins have made rare area appearances.

For the immediate future, Brooks has more special events planned. On Sunday, the club will be open for brunch from noon to 4 p.m. and will present the first in a series of concerts featuring the Easy Street Blue Five. It is the club’s first presentation of pre-swing and swing-era jazz.

On Wednesday and Thursday at the Bird, Koke McKesson and her new keyboardist, Eddie Russ, will record tracks for her upcoming debut album. The prospects of a live LP produced at the club could mean international recognition for both the venue and McKesson.

Brooks sees the original concept of the Bird of Paradise as intact. “The initial goals were to open a facility that would provide a vehicle for local and regional musicians, and some national acts that had only been available on a concert basis,” he says. “The clientele is a great cross section of the public — a cross-cultural combination which the music reflects.

“I’m really pleased with the network which, within one year, has spread the word,” Brooks says. "For example, we’ve had Vincent Moore, a jazz writer from England, come by twice. He liked what he heard, and wrote about us. He tells us what goes on at Ronnie Scott’s club in London. This is an example of what happens. Maynard Ferguson plays a date nearby, and band members stop over afterwards. The word is creeping out.”

The Sunday brunch idea is one Brooks hopes will reach out to a neglected segment of music lovers, the traditional jazz fans. “During the week, we have bebop, a little crossover, a little blues," he says. “I communicated with people in the community who are identified with that swing type of thing - Peter Ferran, Dapogny and Paul Klinger - and they thought that it would be reasonable to pick up a time slot for it. The idea is to keep a certain level of artistic integrity, to make it good by being honest, and that honesty shines through.”

Brooks has plans for more nationally known talent to perform at the club. Cleveland saxophonist Ernie Krivda is scheduled for May 18, and former Ann Arbor pianist Kevin O’Connell is expected to be in with tenor sax great Clifford Jordan. Toledo native and former Ann Arbor resident Stanley Cowell will be at the Bird very soon as well. Who knows who else might drop by, the way Lyle Mays and Marc Johnson did a couple of weeks ago. One thing is certain — the Bird of Paradise seems well on its way to becoming an institution in Ann Arbor music circles.


Koke McKesson will record a live album at the Bird of Paradise this week.