Don Byron

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2012

New York, NY

Don Byron is a composer, clarinetist, saxophonist, and arranger who is known for exploring widely divergent traditions in music while continually striving for what he calls “a sound above genre.” His releases include Do the Boomerang – The Music of Junior Walker (Blue Note, 2006), the Grammy-nominated Ivey Divey (Blue Note, 2004), and the debut album of the Don Byron New Gospel Quintet, Love, Peace, and Soul (Savoy, 2011). In addition to previously holding positions at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Symphony Space, MIT, and SUNY Albany, he is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (2007), a USA Fellowship (2007), the Rome Prize in Musical Composition (2009), and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in musical composition for “7 etudes for Solo Piano.”

  • Photo Credit: Dave Weiland
  • Don Byron- “Etude 1,” Seven (Cantaloupe, 2010):
    “Etude 1,” Seven (Cantaloupe, 2010)
  • Don Byron- “Abie the Fishman,” Ivey-Divey (Blue Note, 2004):
    “Abie the Fishman,” Ivey-Divey (Blue Note, 2004)
  • Don Byron- “Show him some lub,” A Ballad for Many (Cantaloupe, 2006):
    “Show him some lub,” A Ballad for Many (Cantaloupe, 2006)
  • Photo Credit: Till Krautkraemer

Suppose you just met someone who didn't know your work, what project from the past 10 years would you direct them to as an entry point to you and your work, and why?

I think my 2004 recording Ivey Divey (Blue Note) is a fine introduction to my work. It is inspired by, but not tied to, a 1946 recording of Lester Young, a trio with Nat (King) Cole and Buddy Rich. In my career I have done some recordings of seldom-heard repertoire and played the music very close to the way it was played it’s era. Ivey Divey is not a literal reading of the style as played over 50 years before. It is a rethinking of the same scenario, and features some of my favorite original tunes alongside tunes from the 1946 session, and very adventurous modern players. No matter how abstract the music sounds, I am employing the motivic development techniques that Young introduced to Jazz. He was one the fist players to favor development over cliché, and the first to develop the larger intervals that would characterize the playing of later modernists like Coltrane and Eddie Harris. The recording was named recording of the year by JazzTimes and, and was Grammy nominated in 2005.