Baker's Keyboard Lounge
Detroit, MI 48221
It all began in May, 1934, when Chris Baker opened a beer and sandwich restaurant. His son Clarence Baker began to work for him at the age of 15. Five years later, Clarence took over the management of Baker's following his father's stroke in 1939. Baker's was located at the end of the bus line in a rural neighborhood, on Livernois at 8 mile, where cornfields were more common than houses. At that time he nor anyone knew that seven decades later it would claim to be the longest running jazz club anywhere in the world.
In the late thirties, Clarence had installed himself as entertainment director, and began booking solo pianist into Baker's. Suddenly, there were lines outside the door. What began as a neighborhood spot serving steaks and chops, now, was a little jazz club.
The main attraction up until 1954 was local pianist Pat Flowers, who was so popular that Clarence no longer served food as the principal means of support, he provided entertainment nightly. The room was enlarged, and Pat had Clarence change the name to Baker's Keyboard Lounge. By the fifties Baker was booking jazz trios and quartets, such as Fats Waller, Meade Lux, Errol Garner, Art Tatum, Tommy Flanagan, and George Shearing.
During this period, Baker's Keyboard Lounge had become a main link in the American jazz circuit. As a result, the respectful and always swinging atmosphere was centered around the 7-foot Steinway piano that Art Tatum picked out in New York and had shipped to the club. Next he turned his little club into an acoustic jewel. He installed Italian tile which had the highest acoustic rating in the world, the walls were lined with flannel and artist Harry Carew painted murals around the walls. In 1957 the club's trademark was the piano shaped bar with mock piano keys swirling around its edges was installed. The fifties thru the seventies proved to be the clubs golden era. Everyone who was anyone in the world of jazz; the young Dave Brubeck, the man who turned jazz upside down, John Coltrane; the era's premier pianist, Oscar Peterson. There was Krupa and Corea, Calloway and Betty Carter. There was Gerry Mulligan and Sonny Stitt and Kenny Burnel, Barry Harris, Donald Byrd, Earl Klugh, Pepper Adams. In short we had the finest musicians in the world.
The names goes on, especially the local musicians who symbolize the impressive array of extraordinary musicians who played at Baker's. Equally as exciting as the jam sessions, have been the unexpected surprises. Like the night Nat King Cole came to the club and sat in on the piano; or the time Ella Fitzgerald stopped in to see Tommy Flanagan and stayed to sing. Or the time when Liberace came in to see the famous keyboard shaped bar and rushed home to his Beverly Hills Mansion to install a piano-shaped pool in his back yard.
But nothing lasts forever; Clarence tried to get out of the business several times from 1973-1996 because of health problems. Then finally in 1996 he sold the club to John Colbert and Juanita Jackson. The club still maintains its intimate setting, great acoustic sound, and hipster vibe that have made it a favorite for jazz aficionados for 70 years. Baker's still takes an active interest in national and international artists as well as many Detroiters who make performing at baker's a rite of passage for eventually moving abroad.
John and Juanita attribute the keys to their success for continuing the great legacy of jazz at Baker's to the high performance standard made by the local jazz artists and the operation of the kitchen once again from an absence of more than fifty years. So if you like traditional jazz, great atmosphere or if you enjoy just stepping into history, Baker's Keyboard Lounge is an experience you won't want to miss.
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