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Living My Life: The Music of Don Byas featuring James Carter & the Jazzorchestra of the Concertgebouw, conducted by Henk Meutgeert

Don Byas

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Born in 1912 in Oklahoma, Carlos Wesley Byas learned to play tenor saxophone in the Coleman Hawkins style, with a full-bodied tone and fierce swing. Working with a band that accompanied singer Ethel Waters, "Don" Byas first landed in New York in 1937. In 1941, he took over for Lester Young in the Count Basie Orchestra ("the hottest chair in jazzdom," writes historian Dan Morgenstern). With Basie, Byas recorded a breakthrough solo on "Harvard Blues" -- a solo that every tenor worth his or her salt learned by heart.

In 1944, Byas leapt an emerging stylistic gap and played bebop -- before that style even had a name -- with Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach. He recorded "A Night in Tunisia" with Dizzy in 1946. Then Byas moved to Amsterdam, where he lived and worked until he died in 1972. So it's fitting that a tribute to Don Byas comes from the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, July 2006.

James Carter
A decade after Byas' death, young James Carter (born in 1969 in Detroit) was taping Byas' music off public radio, listening to it over and over on his Walkman with a determine zeal to figure out every note on his horn. James took it further; he absorbed the Byas seriousness and competitiveness, at any tempo. Onstage at North Sea, Carter nails his mentor's sound, speed and repertoire. James stops and talks briefly about Byas, calling him the link between Hawkins (1904-1969) and John Coltrane (1926-1967). James Carter is the ideal contemporary player for a tribute to Don Byas, for whom he feels "mad respect."


James Carter, tenor sax
Ralphe Armstrong, bass
Gerard Gibbs, piano
Leonard King, drums


(All music by Byas unless otherwise noted)
"Living My Life"
"Free and Easy" - with trumpet solo by Jan van Duikeren
"Worried and Blue"
"1944 Stomp"

With Jazzorchestra of the Concertgebouw
"Savoy Jam Party"
"Byas a Drink"
"Laura" (Johnny Mercer): Dan Morgenstern remembers that when he saw Byas in Copenhagen in 1946, "Laura" was the high point of every set. It started with those gorgeous first notes gliding into the theme. And even in a big concert hall, you could hear Don's deep breaths between phrases.
"Cherokee" (excerpt) (Ray Noble) - with Sjoerd Dijkhuizen, tenor saxophonist
"Don's Idea"


James Carter's Site
James Carter on Wikipedia
For a portrait of James Carter, read Kelly Bucheger's "James Carter Ruined My Life"
North Sea Jazz 2007 - Dee Dee Bridgewater performs
Jazz Tours - A trip to North Sea for JazzSet listeners

Thanks to Dan Morgenstern, who wrote the liner notes to the double LP and CD Don Byas Savoy Jam Party (Savoy SJL 2213).

Thanks to Producer Manon Miessen, recording engineers Marc Broer and Martijn van Leeuwen Mark Brewer, and liaison Noah Waxman of Radio Netherlands. Beautiful recording!

Our crew is Ginger Bruner of KUNV Las Vegas, Producer Becca Pulliam, Technical Director Duke Markos, Executive Producer Thurston Briscoe III of WBGO Newark.

Copyright 2007 NPR