If you are a fan of jazz…
And you are traveling near Detroit, Michigan, you owe it to yourself to stop by and check out Baker’s Keyboard Lounge.
Sometime around 1933, Chris and Fanny Baker opened this joint as a place where locals could come to get a good sandwich for lunch. A year later their son, Clarence, thought it would be a good idea to book a jazz pianist to entertain patrons during their meals. When he took over the day-to-day operations a few years later after his father suffered a debilitating stroke he decided to expand the hours of business. It was around this time that the lounge began to shift from an afternoon lunch spot to an entertainment destination.
Clarence booked artists from outside of the Detroit area and as its reputation grew, so did the bar. In 1952, they remodeled it to give it the Art Deco look that it has currently and within two years business had begun to boom. Baker’s shifted from booking primarily local artists to booking big named bands. Art Tatum, Dave Brubeck, and Gerry Mulligan all took the stage multiple times throughout the latter half of the 1950s.
As the sound of jazz changed so did the artists that performed at Baker’s. The focus moved from the Modern jazz sound of the late 1950s and to Hard Bop in the early 1960s, thereby changing the tone of the room and the artists who were booked. It was around this time that Clarence leased the club out to another manager who ran it until the early 1970s when he took back control.
The lounge is known by musicians and patrons for its long history, the acoustics of the room and for the intimate set up. The room has a maximum capacity of 99 patrons, which means that the performances are often intimate and very personal for both the performers and the patrons. It is unique in its interior design which includes a piano-shaped bar painted with a keyboard motif. The piano has mirrors positioned so that patrons can see the pianist’s hands when he is playing, and the original Steinway that was purchased in 1950.
Today, Baker’s is designated as a Historic Site by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. The stage played host to greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughn, and Cab Calloway. To find out more about Baker’s Keyboard Lounge check out their website at theofficialbakerskeyboardlounge.com.