If you’ve ever been to the North Berkeley BART station, you’ve probably seen the old-school British taxicabs and rustic birdhouses perched on a vintage pick-up truck parked out on Sacramento Street.
What you might not realize is that on Friday nights this home becomes one of the most jumping music venues in all of Berkeley. It’s called "The Birdland Jazzista Social Club" in tribute to the world renowned New York city jazz venue Birdland and to the Buena Vista Social Club -- that’s where the “ista” in Jazzista come from. And there's one more reason for the name: the venue's founder and owner Birdman Mike makes rustic bird houses.
The Birdland Jazzista Social Club started by accident. A year ago on Memorial Day weekend, Birdman Mike, whose real name is Michael Parayno, bought himself a new barbecue and hosted a party in his front yard for friends and neighbors. About 10 people showed up and partied late into the night. Everyone had a great time
Shortly afterwards, Parayno was laid off from his summer job as an Asian American studies instructor at City College of San Francisco. With more time on his hands and the soccer world cup starting up, Birdman Mike said, “It just seemed like a good idea to keep the party going."
Parayno and a few of his neighbors decided to set up tables and chairs in front of the house and create a “sidewalk living room.” With each week, the events grew in size and popularity. Parayno kept the weekly events going until August, when the fall semester at City College began again.
Up to that point Parayno had been paying for all the food and charcoal out of his own pocket, and the bill for a summer's worth of parties had added up to more then $4000, Parayno said. Without his summer school income, Birdman Mike was broke.
When Parayno told neighbors that the events had to come to an end, they surprised him by offering to take turns footing the bill.
So the Friday night barbecues kept going.
Local musicians starting coming by and jamming, including neighbor Paul Lynch and his trio. Soon, Parayno decided to build a stage from scrap wood. He set up an old PA system and the live music element of Birdland Jazzista Social Club began to blossom.
This spontaneous neighborhood party has now transformed into a full-fledged jazz social club that can hold up to 300 people and attracts big name musical talent. Some of the artists that have played there include the Berkeley High Jazz Band, Latin jazz great John Santos and local legend Josh Jones.
A Private Club
But Birdland hit a few snags on its way. In December of last year, Parayno received a Notice of Violation from the Code Enforcement Unit of the Office of the City Manager, according to berkeleyside.com.
"The document lists eight code violations, including a lack of a special-event permit, loud and unruly gatherings which obstruct public streets, and unapproved land use based on zoning," wrote Sarah Henry.
"This was a low point for Birdland Jazz and BBQ," writes Parayno on his website. "Birdman and the other Birdlanders did not know that people can not be on the sidewalk with a piece of chicken, rib, or calamari; heck, even the neighborhood dogs who came with ribs in their mouths did not know they were being criminalized."
But Parayno made changes to work within city rules. The club is now private, but joining is simple. "If you would like to join the other Jazzistas and learn the secret handshake and penguin walk, email Birdman Mike," writes Parayno. Members can also join at the door for a $20 membership fee.
In addition, Parayno asks for a $10 donation per event to help cover the cost of hiring musicians. Club members must bring their own alcoholic beverages, but Parayno does the rest, serving up delicious barbecued chicken, ribs and seafood plus non-alcoholic beverages.
With the closure of local music venues such as Blake’s on Telegraph, Anna’s Jazz Island, Shanghai 1930 and Downtown Restaurant, the Birdland Jazzista Social Club remains one of the places where people of all ages and walks of life can gather together in Berkeley.
Parayno is now starting a Sunday brunch with a Latin jazz jam session from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. starting June 12. On the menu: a tasty combination of chicken and waffles. (I know to some folks this may sound like a strange gastronomical combo, but trust, me it’s really good.)
When: Fridays and Saturdays, "8 p.m. till the rooster crows three times"
Where: 1733 Sacramento Street, Berkeley, CA 94702. (Across from the North Berkeley BART Station)
For more information about The Birdland Jazzista Social Club go to: http://birdlandjazz.org/
Monica Lam contributed to this report.