<Excerpt from New York Offbeat Walks: Midtown>
Walk on, stopping outside (26) 1678 Broadway—approximately where the parking sign is today. This venue has an equally important place in modern music culture as its basement was home to The Birdland Jazz Club from 1949 to 1965. It was named for jazz pioneer and saxophonist Charlie Parker (1920-1955), whose nickname was “Bird.” Birdland attracted all the great performers—Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Nina Simone. On a good night the finest jazz musicians of their generation performed in front of celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Joe Louis and Marlene Dietrich.
However, as with many jazz clubs, there were often racial tensions under the surface, and the police were often heavy-handed with Black performers. In August 1959 Miles Davis had just released the iconic album Kind of Blue, which would go on to become the highest selling jazz record in history. He was outside the club smoking a cigarette when a white policeman told him to move on. Miles refused, answering “Move on, for what? I’m working downstairs. That’s my name up there!” and pointed to his own name in lights above. He was attacked by two policeman and arrested, photographed covered in blood. Davis could handle himself, a keen boxer who was given boxing lessons by the great Sugar Ray Robinson in Harlem.