Soloing stars on swinging parade

Mar 13, 2001 at 12:00 am

Best Place to Hear Jazz (Washtenaw County)
Bird of Paradise

You make sure there’s toilet paper. You make sure there’re napkins. You worry about the crowd. You worry about the weather. You think about the vacuum cleaner that’s on the fritz. The kitchen, the air conditioner, who’s called in sick on the waitstaff. You think that you’re the owner, but mostly it feels like the place owns you. You think about everything except the music … until the band takes the stage.

“And it all goes away once the music starts because that’s what it’s all about — the music,” Ron Brooks said the other day, reminiscing about what it’s been like for 16 years at the helm of the Bird of Paradise, the last year of it at a new location that doubles the capacity to the 150-200 patron range.

And what a year it’s been. Pianists Chuco Valdes, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Brad Mehldau. Organist Joey DeFrancesco. Bassists Ray Brown and Dave Holland. Drummer Roy Haynes, one of the last drumming titans of the bebop era. Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana, that multi-culti musical extravaganza. In fact, sparks flew at the new club on the very first night when the reunion of soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd — to quote a Lacy superlative in this here solo — lifted the bandstand.

That’s been the caliber of national artists trekking to the stage of the Bird. But that’s only part of the Bird’s success. Some of the rest: the 15-piece Bird of Paradise Orchestra led by bassist Paul Keller on Mondays, bassist Brooks’ own group on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Pete Siers’ Latin-jazz group Los Gatos on Wednesday.

And to mention a couple schedule standouts on the horizon, there’s Ray Brown’s return to the club at the end of May and David “Fathead” Newman’s gig at the end of April when he’ll play with Brooks’ group.

“It’s been like nurturing a family,” Brooks said, trying to put it all in perspective. “What you get back … what I’ve gotten back is equal to and surpasses what I’ve given. It’s been a great venue for a lot of people.”