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People, Locations, Episodes

Wed, 05.02.1934

Bakers Keyboard Lounge in Detroit Opens

*Baker's Keyboard Lounge is remembered on this date in 1934.  This is one of the oldest running jazz clubs in America. 

Located in Detroit, MI, Chris Baker originally opened it as a beer and sandwich restaurant. His son Clarence Baker began to work for him at the age of 15. In 1939 the elder Baker suffered a stroke and Clarence took over the management of the establishment.  Clarence Baker as entertainment director and began booking solo pianists as an added attraction and suddenly, there were lines outside the door. What began as a neighborhood spot serving steaks and chops became a little jazz club.  The main attraction until 1954 was the local pianist Pat Flowers. The room was enlarged, and Pat had Clarence change the name to Baker's Keyboard Lounge.  

Soon Baker was booking Fats Waller, Meade Lux Lewis, Errol Garner, Art Tatum, Tommy Flanagan, and George Shearing, and others.   Baker's Keyboard Lounge became a main link in the American jazz circuit.  Its swinging atmosphere was centered on the 7-foot Steinway piano that Art Tatum picked out in New York and had shipped to the club. Next, 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. Also, the club's trademark was the piano-shaped bar with mock piano keys swirling around its edges. 

The fifties thru the seventies were an important timeline for Baker’s.  Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, and Oscar Peterson to name a few players there. There was Gene Krupa and Chick Corea, Cab Calloway, and Betty Carter. There was Gerry Mulligan and Sonny Stitt and Kenny Burrell, Barry Harris, Donald Byrd, Earl Klugh, Pepper Adams, and more.  There also have been countless local musicians who symbolize the impressive array of extraordinary musicians who play at Baker's. Equally exciting were the jam sessions and 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 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. 

Between 1973 and 1996, the owner tried to sell Baker’s because of health problems.  In 1996, John Colbert and Juanita Jackson became new owners. The club still maintains its intimate setting, acoustic sound, and hipster vibe. Baker's still features national and international artists as well as many Detroiters.  This continues the great legacy of jazz at Baker's along with the operation of the kitchen.  In its beginning, 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 no one knew that seven decades later it would claim to be the longest-running jazz club anywhere in the world.   Traditional jazz, great atmosphere and history are found at Baker's Keyboard Lounge.  

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This world is one great battlefield With forces all arrayed, If in my heart I do not yield I’ll overcome some day. I’ll overcome some day, I’ll overcome some day, If in my heart I... I Know the Lord Will Make a Way by Charles Albert Tindley.
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