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Don Byron: Moving Towards the Idiomatic

By Published: February 19, 2007

The Longstanding Music for Six Musicians Group

AAJ: Your Music for Six Musicians band hasn't recorded for a while since you did the Music For Six Musicians album (Nonesuch, 1995) and You Are #6: More Music For Six Musicians CD (Blue Note, 2001), but the band still plays together. There is so much beauty in the music of this group, as well as a sort of kind humor and all that rhythm. Tell me what you like about playing with this band, and what you are saying with it.

DB: Well, it's been the place where I play my compositions in the most unfiltered way, because I'm really working with the elements that I grew up with. Caribbean music, clarinet, piano. Those are all a part of my upbringing. So it's always been a place that I've felt really comfortable to develop a lot of my more conceptual ideas. And I've developed this group of people who will learn something, adapt, and play off of it. They have to learn the music really well, and then kind of get off it, in a way. They've been the band I've really worked with the most over the years, and I'm really thankful that I've had that band for so long. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...

Moving Beyond Clarinet

Don Byron AAJ: As a clarinetist, you have taken the instrument to places that I haven't heard it go before. It's remarkable what you can make the instrument do, and the settings in which you've placed it. Are there still places for you to take it?

DB: I think I've done about as much for the clarinet as I'm going to do for a while. I'm not so involved in being some kind of conceptual warrior for its survival. Now I just want to play whatever kind of music I ever wanted to play; I want to play that before I'm through. I'm more concerned with that than where the clarinet is right now. I think the saxophone has really changed my attitude, and I think the clarinet is kind of established. I started playing the Jewish stuff, people told me not to play it, and now everybody plays that stuff.

It's become a business to do left-wing Jewish stuff. And a lot of the people who are kind of my competitors have really benefited from my taking the instrument to some of these places where people wouldn't normally see it, or trying to really be as hip as someone would be on the saxophone or trumpet, in terms of a modernism of line, or modernism of approach. So I've done my share for that. I don't really have anything to prove to anybody about that. I just want to play some music now on any instrument I feel like playing. If I feel like just writing for a while, I might just write for a while. But I've done my justice to the clarinet.

AAJ: What are you going to do next?

DB: I think I may make a jazz record with some of the people I like playing with—Billy Hart, [pianist] Ed Simon and some other folks. So I'm working on that. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...

Selected Discography

Don Byron, Do the Boomerang: the Music of Junior Walker (Blue Note, 2006)
Bang on a Can & Don Byron, A Ballad For Many (Cantaloupe Music, 2006)
Don Byron, Ivey-Divey (Blue Note, 2004)
Ralph Alessi, This Against That (RKM, 2002)
Don Byron, You Are #6: More Music For Six Musicians (Blue Note, 2001)
Don Byron, A Fine Line: Arias & Lieder (Blue Note, 1999)
Don Byron, Romance With the Unseen (Blue Note, 1999)
Don Byron and Existential Dred, Nu Blaxploitation (Blue Note, 1998)
Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra with Don Byron, You Are Here (True North, 1998)
Don Byron, Bug Music (Nonesuch, 1996)
Vernon Reid & Masque, Mistaken Identity (550 Music/Epic, 1996
Don Byron Quintet, No-Vibe Zone: Live at the Knitting Factory (Knitting Factory Works, 1995)
Don Byron, Music For Six Musicians (Nonesuch, 1995)
Jerome Harris, Hidden in Plain View (New World Records, 1995)
Uri Caine, Toys (JMT, 1995)
Bill Frisell, This Land (Elektra, 1994)
Don Byron, Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz (Nonesuch, 1993)
Don Byron, Tuskeegee Experiments (Nonesuch, 1992)
Bobby Previte, Weather Clear, Track Fast (Enja, 1991)
Gerry Hemingway, Special Detail (HatHut, 1991)

Related Articles
Don Byron: Thinking and Rethinking (Artist Profile, 2006)
A Fireside Chat with Don Byron (Interview, 2004)

Photo Credits
Top and Bottom Photos: Till Krautkraemer
Center Top Photo: Andreas Eisler
Center Bottom Photo: Henry Benson

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