New theater space expands Birdland’s vocal range

Opening officially in the fall, performances are already well underway at Birdland Theater. |  Photo courtesy of Birdland Jazz Club

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Ages and ages in the planning stages, venerable Midtown music mecca Birdland Jazz Club is finally sitting in the catbird seat, having announced the completion of a nesting place that promises to up its game by taking audiences down a level — to the lower level, that is, which is where the new 100-seat Birdland Theater is already flying high in advance of its grand opening this fall. One of the very first entertainers to grace its stage was top-notch arranger, pianist, and singer Billy Stritch — whose Birdland PR reps promised us an exclusive interview if we stopped the barrage of featherweight, avian-based references. Consider it done!

Stritch can be seen and heard every Monday night in Birdland’s classy, classic upstairs space — along with longtime collaborator and tireless talent booster Jim Caruso, whose “Cast Party” open mic night draws a sell-out crowd and a roster of performers who run the gambit from current Broadway talent to iconic bold-faced names to undersung local vocalists, with an occasional splash of vaudeville performance. There, Stritch is in his element, displaying a seemingly effortless grasp of any given performer’s preferred song and style (regulars Steve Doyle on bass and Daniel Glass on drums also make it look easy).

Speaking of making it look easy, here’s Stritch in his own words, via that vaunted format know as the Q&A:

US: How is this new venue different from the main upstairs space?

STRITCH: The new space is definitely a bit smaller; more intimate and streamlined. Because it’s more of a proscenium stage, it will be ideal for not only cabaret performances but also small theater pieces. It’s truly adaptable for many types of shows and performances.

US: What was it like “breaking in” the room? (Stritch and Caruso recently gave a free concert; Natalie Douglas was Birdland Theater’s very first performer.)

Marilyn Maye and Billy Stritch. | Photo courtesy of Billy Stritch

STRITCH: It was really thrilling. I mean, how often does one get to open (or be among the few artists to open) a new room? The room has had a fairly long birthing process, and the energy and excitement in the room was palpable! I definitely had the feeling that the audience was thrilled to witness the genesis of this new space.

US: Talk about the collaborative content, energy, chemistry you (and the Trio) have with Marilyn Maye. Is there anything about the show that’s custom-made for, or acknowledges, this new space?

STRITCH: I’m not really sure what Marilyn is planning for this show! She calls the shots, but I’m sure that whatever she has planned it will be special and suited ideally to the theater.

US: What are your desires for this venue — personally, and in terms of the artists you’d like to see there?

STRITCH: I just think it’s so exciting to have a clean, new performing space in the heart of Midtown. I feel like so many different types of shows and events will fit beautifully in the room. Personally, I’m excited about having a new space — not only for my own shows, but for the singers I am fortunate to accompany.

Marilyn Maye and the Billy Stritch Trio are in performance at Birdland Theater (315 W. 44th St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.) from Tues., July 31 through Sat., Aug. 4. All shows are at 7pm (doors open 6pm). Tickets are $50, plus a $10 food/drink minimum). To purchase, and for more info, visit or call 212-581-3080. Also visit, and

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