Gianni Valenti is the owner of Birdland Jazz Club, located in the heart of Midtown, Manhattan. The club – which has been around for decades – has played host to the best in jazz to the best of Broadway, and everyone in between. But ever since the COVID-19 shutdown went into full effect for performance spaces in the city there’s been no music center stage at the famed venue.
"We closed on March 16th, so we’ve been closed for the last 10 months," said the distraught owner.
Valenti says he hasn’t received a paycheck since early last year and has been paying a skeleton staff out of pocket, not to mention building and maintenance costs. That’s about $50,000 per month. In the Fall, he spent $20,000 just to prepare the club to reopen for a socially distanced experience. But that only lasted 10 days.
"As you see here these are all custom made dividers to keep our patrons safe within six feet. As you see, we never even got a chance to use them," said Valenti.
With no date on the books from the government on when performance venues in New York City can reopen, Gianni was losing hope.
Well, that was until a couple weeks ago when the city’s performing arts community stepped in. Off-Broadway theater producer Tom D’Angora started a Go Fund Me page to help Gianni with his expenses.
So far the site has raised more than $250,000, and an all-star telethon and virtual performance is scheduled for this Sunday. Notable performers and guests include Bill Clinton, Leslie Odom, Jr., Matthew Broderick and Chita Rivera.
"New York City... it isn't New York City without Birdland," said Rivera.
The 3-time Tony winner has played the club many times, and says it’s an institution that cannot close.
"The world needs that rhythm," said Rivera. "The musicians need a wonderful place to go. We need a fabulous place to go to hear great music."
Valenti says he’s overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from Chita Rivera and her peers, and says he’s remaining optimistic.
"As long as it’s my club – and I’m the owner here – I will do everything I can to keep it alive," said Valenti. Birdland will never close on my watch."
To see Chita and company in action on Sunday night and for more information on the Save Birdland initiative, head to savebirdland.com.