After nearly eight years of hosting jazz greats such as Les McCann and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Birdland West owner Al Williams is putting his Long Beach nightclub up for sale.
In February, Williams filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the federal Bankruptcy Act to reorganize his debt. Then last month, Williams said, he decided to sell the business.
Williams said his club, like many local businesses, is a victim of the poor economy. Recently, ticket sales have dropped and the cost of booking well-known bands has risen. Despite the drop in sales, Williams said he has declined to lower ticket prices, which average about $15.
"I don't see enough people to hire the acts I wanted to hire," Williams said.
Williams, a 51-year-old drummer, said he is also finding the task of running the club too demanding. He said he wants to focus on playing with his own band, the Jazz Society, once the sale is complete. He declined to discuss possible buyers but said he hopes to find one who will maintain the club's jazz atmosphere.
Birdland West is one of the few clubs in the Los Angeles area to offer jazz exclusively. Others include the Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood and The Strand in Redondo Beach.
When he opened Birdland West in 1986, Williams said he was banking on Long Beach's central location to draw jazz lovers from Los Angeles and Orange counties. The club has drawn a crowd from outside the city as well as a faithful following of local customers.
"That place was like 'Cheers' before the economy got bad," Long Beach Councilman Ray Grabinski said, referring to the popular television-show bar with a loyal local clientele. "Before Al opened up Birdland, downtown didn't have many events at all."
Manny Jones, director of Downtown Long Beach Associates, a group of downtown merchants, said his group and city officials are helping Williams find a buyer who will keep the club open.
Williams ran the Jazz Safari club near the Queen Mary for 10 years before losing his lease in 1986. The same year, he remodeled the second story of the historic Bradley building at Pine Avenue and Broadway to open Birdland West.