Jazz artist Don Byron370.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The name of Don Byron’s group is somewhat misleading, unless taken in the
The Grammy Award-nominated American jazz saxophonist and
clarinet player will perform tomorrow evening at the Hangar, The First Station
venue in Jerusalem, as part of the Israel Festival. He will be accompanied by
the other members of the New Gospel Quintet – vocalist La Velle, pianist Bruno
Ruder, bass player Brad Jones and drummer Sangoma Everett – in what promises to
be a very eclectic show.
So perhaps, the “gospel” part of the band’s name
should be considered more in terms of offering a wide ranging musical message
rather than in the context of the specific titular genre.
Mind you, even
a brief look at Byron’s jam-packed résumé reveals that he has been dipping his
nimble fingers into new creative areas for quite some time.
In a recent
interview he gave to the All About Jazz website, the 54-year-old musician said
he’s always had a multi-pronged musical approach. “I always had a few different
things that I was into. When I was an undergrad, I thought what I wanted to know
was how to play classical music of a certain ilk, how to play jazz of a certain
ilk. I was playing a lot of Latin music, and I was starting to play with the
Klezmer Conservatory band.”
The latter avenue of sonic exploration, and a
few others besides, was in full view of Israeli music lovers a few years ago
when Byron teamed up with Jewish American pianist Uri Caine for a concert at the
Israeli Opera House in 2007 for a duo performance that roamed across distinctly
klezmer-oriented terrain, as well as other sectors.
will reflect that universal ethos and will reference a generous swath of styles
and genres, including straightahead jazz, funk, blues, R&B, classical music
and, yes, even gospel.
When Byron was starting out, it was very much a
matter of trying to extend the boundaries of what was considered acceptable on
his principal chosen instrument. “When I first started being interested in being
a jazz musician, the job of being a jazz clarinetist was really very limited,”
he notes. “Most musicians my age, black musicians especially, were not really
interested in the instrument. So I guess my idea of jazz clarinet evolved out of
trying to keep a theoretical thing going and a technical thing going on the
instrument but that I would have one foot in the classical thing and one foot in
the jazz thing. And certain ethnic traditions that I came upon that I might be
In fact, Byron was exposed to music of various
sorts from the word go. He was born in The Bronx in New York City. His mother
was a pianist, and his father played bass in calypso bands. As well as listening
to jazz recordings by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, he got a
taste of other musical areas by attending the ballet and symphony concerts.
Later, he studied clarinet with venerated clarinet and saxophone teacher Joe
Allard and attended the prestigious New England Conservatory (NEC) in Boston,
under the tutelage of pianist-composer George Russell. While in Boston, Byron
performed and recorded with the Klezmer Conservatory Band, a nonprofit
organization dedicated to researching and perpetuating Jewish
Byron’s discography reflects that all-encompassing mindset, and
his first recorded offering, Tuskegee Experiments, released in 1992, is an
intriguing mix of jazz improvisation and material that tends towards the
avant-garde side of the classical tracks, while his follow-up release, Don Byron
Plays the Music of Mickey Katz, is a tribute to the work of the stellar Jewish
comedian and musician. To keep his growing number of followers guessing, his
subsequent album, Music for Six Musicians, which came out in 1995, wove a merry
path along meandering avenues of Latin and Caribbean music, also taking in his
father’s line of artistic endeavor.
Basically, Byron considers himself a
jazz musician, which naturally allows him to take on all manner of musical
styles. Even so, he doesn’t believe that every single genre can be included in
the jazz fold. “It wasn’t necessarily my intention to co-opt Eastern European
music as jazz,” he said in the All About Jazz interview.
“It was my
intention to play that music in a way that interested me. And the things that
interested me were not necessarily the jazz-like things about them.”
so, that doesn’t entail a no-holds-barred approach. “If you have a kind of
music, there are moves you can make and moves you can’t; there are scales you
can play and scales you wouldn’t play, rhythms that you would play or wouldn’t
play, ornamentation – which is a very important thing in my world – that you
would play that you wouldn’t play in other music,” he says. “And unless you’re
willing to think separately about these things, you’re not going to really learn
that much about any of them unless you’re able to objectify what makes something
sound like [Hungarian folk dance music] Chardash.”
Byron’s latest release
was recorded with the New Gospel Quintet and goes by the name of Love, Peace and
Soul. The audience at tomorrow’s concert should get all of the above, and then
For tickets and more information about Don Byron and New Gospel
Quintet: *6266 and www.israel-festival.org.il.