Though many people know it as an Edmonton institution, a pillar of the local music scene and a storied jazz venue, many more might be surprised to learn The Yardbird Suite is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year.
“The Yardbird Suite in Edmonton is a pretty well-kept secret,” Dave Babcock says.
Babcock is a board member of the Edmonton Jazz Society, and a professional saxophonist/band leader. For each of the five weekends in March, The Yardbird is hosting a concert designed to celebrate its long and eventful history as Edmonton’s most venerable jazz club and one of the key jazz performance spaces in Western Canada.
“There’s a lot of tradition there,” Babcock says, “and we’ll be touching on that.”
On Mar. 3 and 4, Tommy Banks conducted P.J. Perry & Strings playing a tribute to saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker—also known as ‘Yardbird’ or ‘Bird.’ Banks “was basically recreating these classic recordings that Charlie Parker performed with a string section in the late ’40s, early ’50s,” Babcock explains. “Very famous, well-loved recordings.”
The weekend of Mar. 10 and 11 had Banks presenting Piano City, a concert featuring performances from eight different pianists. Banks has been involved with The Yardbird from its early days, helping P.J. Perry develop the anniversary program.
This weekend’s instalment, the Jazz Zenith Saxophone Summit, will feature five of Canada’s most renowned saxophone players—Remi Bolduc, P.J. Perry, Kirk MacDonald, Kelly Jefferson and Phil Dwyer—with Fraser Hollins on bass and Dave Laing on drums.
“If you want to hear the best of local artists,” Babcock says, “come on the anniversary weekend [Mar. 23, 24, 25].”
Over this three-night series The Yardbird will bring together both long-standing members of its concert roster and up-and-coming performers—all from Edmonton. Babcock will play along with more than 20 other musicians performing together in different combinations and permutations.
Mar. 31 and Apr. 1, the Edmonton Jazz Society’s jazz education program, The Littlebirds Big Band, will perform with four of the program’s five directors, including founding director Gordon Towell—now an instructor at Loyola University in New Orleans—and current director Joel Gray. Proceeds from the weekend will help fund the program.
Founded in Mar. 1957, and originally located on Whyte Avenue, The Yardbird Suite has always been run exclusively by Edmonton Jazz Society volunteers. After several venue changes, The Yardbird opened in its current location (11 Tommy Banks Way) in 1984.
Currently, the Yardbird is open to the public several nights a week. Tuesday and Thursday nights usually feature local talent, and after Tuesday performances there’s a regular jam session. Babcock credits the MacEwan University jazz program—established in the ’70s—with helping to establish “a very strong jazz community” in Edmonton. But he also notes The Yardbird has a wide-reaching reputation that supports and is supported by internationally famous jazz musicians.
“Some of the best players in the world come through quite regularly.”
Until Sat., Apr. 1
Yardbird Suite’s 60th Anniversary
Yardbird Suite, From $32