Don Byron: Music Wikipedia
GC: That reminds me, a long time ago I remember you saying that you feel like the downtown cats need to play more traditional, and vise versa.
DB: Oh yeah, yeah, I've always thought that. When I look at the way I play downtown gigs...I play more harmony that they were used to playing with. When I play with more traditional cats, I play more skronk than they're used to.
DB: Well some of these older players really think of themselves as free players, some of the really straight-ahead guys. I mean...you know, like [saxophonist Sonny] Rollins = 3897}}has such an "out there" streak, when you hit that East Broadway Run Down (Impulse!, 1966) kind of period, Alfie (Impulse! 1966), the stuff that he does with [trumpeter Don] Cherry = 5668}}, you can really see it. And then you look back at the super straight-ahead stuff that's got all of this harmonic information, but what's really driving the engine of that is some real outness. There's some real outness in the way that he approaches things. Whether he has enough technique to carry it out, there's some impulse there that's a little left of center to very left of center. I guess I've never been that interested in free music as an occupation. In my life, I've tried to show aspects of both all the time, usually where they don't belong.
GC: You brought the Eb clarinet to the last gig with [drummer] Jack [DeJohnette] = 6202}}. Are you going to bring it on the next tour, and do you want to say anything about that instrument? It seems like you were gravitating towards it, really getting into it.
DB: I don't think I've played any Bb clarinet on that gig. The last time I played with Allen Toussaint I didn't play any Bb clarinet. I can't even believe that I never played Eb clarinet because I feel so comfortable on it, yet I'm still learning technically and the intonation is just...you know, anybody's who's ever played that instrument knows there's this struggle that you're used to. You have a million fingerings for the same note, and in certain situations you use one and not the other...it's a separate instrument.
A lot of the way the great bass clarinet players, they don't even play regular clarinet, or some of them don't play good Bb clarinet. Bass clarinet is really a separate instrument; you can go to a school and major in it. I don't know if you can go to a school and major in Eb clarinet but it certainly is an instrument with very limited repertoire, you can buy one book and pretty much see all the major stuff which is mostly orchestral. It's not like there are millions of things but the things that are in there are really major and when you play through the excerpts for "The Firebird" and "The Rite of Spring," you can see that a lot of the sound of those ensembles emanates from the Eb clarinet. There's so much important Eb clarinetStravinsky, Shostakovich, Berliozit's just an amazing instrument. And it's an instrument that is very melodic-related, the things that you play on it. You don't play whole notes, you play melodies. And it's just lovely! And it's improved my clarinet technique because everything you do on it, you have much less room for error in terms of fingering and finger position, so it really makes you play very strictly.
GC: It seemed to fit in with Jack's music very well.
DB: Well it's a little more like a soprano, it has a little more of a hard edge to it than normal clarinet. Normal clarinet, even amongst good players, the middle register is kind of like the way a sub-woofer inundates a room. It doesn't come at you like a laser beam, it's a little lazy. It can be a little..."over-creamy." And there's something kind of hard-edged about the Eb clarinet that reminds you of soprano, but it has a flute-like quality too. It's a cool instrument, it's very difficult to play. Extremely difficult...I was just practicing "Daphnis and Chloe" , "Symphony Fantastique," "Bolero," "Shostakovich's 5th Symphony..." It's not like clarinet, where there's a million Sonatas and things written for it. It's really just this stuff.
GC: Speaking of Stravinsky, how did you first fall in love with Stravinsky and how has he influenced you?