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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. 

In Detroit, MI, Chris Baker originally opened it as a beer and sandwich restaurant. His son Clarence Baker began to work for him at 15. In 1939 the elder Baker suffered a stroke, and Clarence took over the establishment's management.  Clarence Baker, as entertainment director, 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 with 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, Chick Corea, Cab Calloway, and Betty Carter. There were 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 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 backyard. 

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 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 miles, 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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