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Jaki Byard – Live In Antwerp – 1995 – Past Daily Downbeat.

Jaki Byard - live in Antwerp
Jaki Byard – Man of many styles.

Jaki Byard – in concert at Antwerp, Belgium – February 8, 1995 – RTBF – Belgium –

Jaki Byard in concert this weekend. Recorded live in Antwerp on February 8, 1995 and broadcast by the RTBF Radio network in Belgium.

Jaki Byard was an American jazz multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger. Mainly a pianist, he also played tenor and alto saxophones, among several other instruments. He was known for his eclectic style, incorporating everything from ragtime and stride to free jazz.

He played with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was a member of bands led by bassist Charles Mingus for several years, including on several studio and concert recordings. The first of his recordings as a leader was in 1960, but, despite being praised by critics, his albums and performances did not gain him much wider attention. In his 60-year career, Byard recorded at least 35 albums as leader, and more than 50 as a sideman. Byard’s influence on the music comes from his combining of musical styles during performance, and his parallel career in teaching.

Byard began playing professionally on piano at the age of 16, in bands led by Doc Kentross and Freddy Bates. His early lessons had involved mostly playing by rote, so his development of knowledge of theory and further piano technique occurred from the late 1930s until 1941, including studying harmony at Commerce High School. In that year, he was drafted into the army, where he continued with piano lessons and was influenced by pianist Ernie Washington, with whom he was barracked, although Byard also took up trombone at this time. He also studied Stravinsky and Chopin, and continued studying classical composers into the 1960s. Part of his military service was in Florida, where he was a mentor to the young saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and his brother, Nat. After leaving the army in 1946, Byard’s musical education continued, through discussions with others, and using library materials combined with music school syllabuses.

In 1980 Byard was the subject of a short documentary film, Anything for Jazz, which featured him playing, teaching and with his family. By the 1980s his main instrument remained the piano, and he still played both alto and tenor saxophones, but he had stopped playing the other instruments that he used to use professionally – bass, drums, guitar, trombone, and trumpet, although he still taught all of them. In the same period, he was often heard in New York playing solo, in duos, or in trios. In 1988 he played with a band founded by Mingus’ widow to perform the bassist’s compositions – the Mingus Big Band. Byard played and recorded with a former student of his, Ricky Ford, from 1989 to 1991, and continued to play and teach during the 1990s.

Sadly, Byard died at his home in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1999, the result of a single gunshot wound. The mystery has never been solved and the music world was robbed, once again.

As a reminder, here is a solo concert by the legendary Jaki Byard in Antwerp.

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