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Chris Byars: Studying Unsung Heroes

By Published: September 30, 2009

AAJ: Speaking of treasures: have you put your own touring on hold in order to perform with Teddy Charles?

CB: I did, in fact, turn down a State Department tour to India in favor of an Iridium 2008 summer engagement with Teddy Charles. But I have firmly adopted one more lesson from my heroes Lucky Thompson and Gigi Gryce. They were, above all, chiefly dedicated to their personal relationship to the music. They didn't rely too heavily on others for inspiration or musical direction. Can you imagine them giving a tribute to Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
or Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton
1890 - 1941
? Indeed, they were firmly grounded in their traditions, and learned from the masters of the time, but they followed their own voice to create something new, and now we have their individual gifts to add to our vast cultural treasure.

Of my recordings, the one that brings me the most satisfaction is Jazz Pictures at an Exhibition of Himalayan Art (Smalls Records, 2008), a suite of original music inspired by visual art. That's where my future lies. I'll continue my association with Teddy Charles, and my study of Lucky Thompson and Gigi Gryce, but not at the expense of my following own direction. My plan is to take the bright moments of my historical projects, and use them as a compass for my ongoing musical journey. There are a lot of great sounds in jazz that have yet to be heard.

Selected Discography

Chris Byars, Bop-ography (SteepleChase, 2010)
Chris Byars, Blue Lights: The Music of Gigi Gryce (SteepleChase, 2009)
Teddy Charles, Dances With Bulls (Smalls Records, 2009)
Chris Byars, Jazz Pictures At An Exhibition Of Himalayan Art (Smalls Records, 2008)
Ruslan Khain, For Medicinal Purposes Only (Smalls Records, 2008)
Chris Byars, Photos In Black, White, And Grey (Smalls Records, 2007)
Ari Roland/Chris Byars Turkmen-American Jazz Quintet, Jazz Patterns (US Embassy Ashgabat, 2007)
Ari Roland, And So I Lived In Old New York (Smalls Records, 2007)
Chris Byars Octet, Night Owls (Smalls Records, 2006)
Chris Byars Octet/Sasha Dobson, The Darkling Thrush (Smalls Records, 2005)
Frank Hewitt, Four Hundred Saturdays (Smalls Records, 2005)
Across 7 Street, Made In New York (Smalls Records, 2004)

Photo Credits

Page 1,

Page 2, John Rhatigan, courtesy of Chris Byars

Page 3, University of Maryland

Page 4, Sacha Lecca, courtesy of Chris Byars

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