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Interviews

Don Byron: Music Wikipedia

By Published: October 3, 2012
DB: Well when I was a kid, my junior high school band teacher played in the New York City Ballet, which was the Stravinsky ?. That's where all of that happened. I heard some Stravinsky back then, but I didn't really get into it until later. Somehow I just really understood bi-tonality, I just really understood on some level what he was doing harmonically. And it was my curiosity about the chords that he was writing that made me want to look at music more closely. That and Gustav Mahler's music, the chords in there. I would just hear something and go "what is that?" Because in the kind of harmony that I was getting taught in the schools, we were just writing Roman numerals under the steps of the major scale. That sounded like a V chord, but it didn't sound like the kind of V chord that I knew. So with Stravinsky's music you didn't even need someone to explain that it was bi-tonal, you could see it. You could look at a score and you could see it. But there was something really magical about his intelligence, the intelligence that came off in the way that he arranged his stuff, the way that he rhythmically varied things. So you'd have a group of 5, then a group of three, then a group of four, then a group of seven...just kind of mixing up seemingly random rhythmic groupings. There's a lot of stuff like that in the "Rite of Spring."

So once I started getting into his amazing cleverness, and that somehow he'd make all of this stuff that was really weird but would sound right. Like what else would you want there except a whole bunch of measures that aren't the same length? I just had never heard any music like that. And then what was really crazy was that at the same time I had discovered him, I really got into Eddie Palmieri and I could see the same elements in his music. For me, it was Stravinsky and Eddie Palmieri for a long time, that's what I was really looking at. I love Eddie Palmieri. He really managed to do what Stravinsky did, only in one music. He had kind of a skronky thing, a very traditional sense of harmony, he mixed and matched them and pitted them against each other. He had the kind of complexity that Stravinsky had in his music and yet people were dancing to it. What could be better? Not professional dancer, but normal people would sit down and they were dancing to some of the wildest music that I had ever heard. So I think the moment where the Stravinsky really sank in was around the time of "Sentido," and "Unfinished Masterpiece," and those kinds of records that were really kind of out there. Those two artists, one dead and one living, they really fueled my standards for what music was supposed to have in it. What kind of innovation or playing with the elements or rhythmic and harmonic trickiness. It was really around those two artists.

GC: What's next on the list for you in terms of projects? I know you have the Gospel project. Is there anything coming down the pipe?

DB: I'm doing some research in Banda music. Banda is vocal music, but it features large Mexican instrumental groups. A banda group like the ones that travel, they might have a section of four or five clarinets. I saw this group called Cuisillos that had four clarinets and they could all play! There's a bunch of these groups. I just started doing research on them and I think the Cuisillos guy, the founder, is a clarinetist. I'm always interested in what's happening on the instrument outside of the two big musics. What's happening on Banda is really exciting as a wind player because the groups play with this kind of wide vibrato that sounds very idiomatic, like if you hear a Mariachi band. There's that big wide vibrato on all of the instruments, all the wind players play with it. When I first started listening to salsa groups, at first I kind of liked it, and then I could hear the sophistication in the writing. Guys like Luis Perico Oritz, or Luis Cruz... you can see the potential for that kind of growth in Banda. They've got a lot of troops that can really play their instruments. And with or without that vibrato, you could do a bunch of crazy stuff and every once in a while you hear these groups and they're playing really instrument lines behind singers.


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