A musician that has spanned the generations of Jazz is Jaki Byard. Jaki Byard was born John Arthur Byard, Jr. on June 15, 1922 in Worcester, Massachusetts. His father was a member of the marching hands at the turn of the 20th century and played the trombone. His mother played the piano for the African Methodist Episcopalian Zion Church (AME). His maternal grandmother played the piano for the silent picture shows (visual movies without sound before "talking movies" were invented). It was on that piano that Jaki began his musical odyssey.
When he was 8 years old, he started taking piano lessons from a piano teacher named Grace Johnson. The swing rhythm of the time and the lure of the big bands inspired Jaki throughout most of his career. At the age of 16, he played his first professional engagement. During WW II, Jaki was drafted into the army, but with luck and circumstance, he was able to join the army along with Earl Bostic, with whom he would later form a musical alliance with.
By the time he was in his late-thirties, Jaki had a recording contract with Prestige records who engaged him in many recording sessions which allowed him the freedom to have his own compositions heard. It was also around this time that he performed with Charles Mingus as part of an ensemble that featured among its players many fabulous musicians: Eric Dolphy, Jack De Johnette, Johnny Coles and Bobby Jones, who toured Europe and made some great sounds and history. During the 1960's, he saw great success, and all of his albums received mostly 3-4 star ratings in DownBeat magazine.
In 1966, he won the Down Beat Jazz Poll Award for most promising musician of that year. In 1979, his 21-piece big band, The Apollo Stompers was voted the Best House Band in New York City while playing at Ali's Alley, a club in downtown New York. On his own, Jaki was to win numerous awards and citations for his music and contributions to teaching and dance from many major academic institutions. He always felt "academia" as he put it was very important. A most cherished and proud moment for Jaki was when he was asked by Duke Ellington's son Mercer to sit in for Duke as part of his orchestra while the Duke was ill. He was presented with an award by the Duke Ellington Society for his performances.