Guitarist Charlie Byrd Dies
By TOM STUCKEY Associated Press Writer
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Charlie Byrd,
a prolific guitarist who fused jazz, classical and Latin styles, has died.
He was 74.
Byrd died Tuesday of cancer.
During a career that spanned five
decades, Byrd recorded more than 100 albums, one as recently as September.
Many of those recordings were with his Charlie Byrd Trio, which included
his brother, Joe Byrd, on bass.
Byrd grew up in Virginia and learned
guitar from his father, a mandolin player. He was inspired to study jazz
while stationed in Paris in 1945, and returned to New York to study jazz
theory and composition at Harnett National Music School.
He added classical guitar to his
repertoire after moving to Washington, D.C., in 1950, and he traveled to
Italy in 1954 to study by invitation with the great Spanish classical guitarist
In the 1960s, he incorporated Brazilian
rhythms into his music. ``Jazz
Samba,'' an album recorded with Stan Getz, helped introduce the bossa
nova to American audiences.
In 1997, Byrd was honored as the
first Maryland Arts Treasure. This year, he was honored as a Knight of
the Rio Branco by the government of Brazil.
``He's so versatile and so widely
experienced, and his technique is so solid in so many different kinds of
music,'' said John Spitzer, who teaches music history at the Peabody Institute
in Baltimore. ``There's really a great range of expression that you don't
find in any other jazz guitarist that I know of.''
Byrd is survived by his wife, Rebecca,
two daughters, one granddaughter and two brothers.
Guitarist Charlie Byrd Dies At 74
Charlie Byrd, the guitarist whose interpretations
of Brazilian bossa nova music provided a crucial
boost to that music's popularity in the United
States, died Thursday (Dec. 2) in Annapolis, Md.
after a struggle with cancer. He was 74.
In 1962, Charlie Byrd released the Verve album Jazz
in collaboration with saxophonist Stan Getz. A tuneful
exploration of the Brazilian bossa nova sound, it became one
of the most popular jazz albums of the decade and
crystallized the style's popularity in this country. Byrd
released a subsequent string of Brazilian-influenced albums,
the most recent being last year's Concord Records set My
Inspiration -- Music Of Brazil.
A statement from Concord Records' executive VP John Burke
says, in part, "Charlie's passing is a tremendous loss to the
jazz world and to all of us at Concord Records. On a more
personal level, Charlie was not only a great artist, but he
was a true gentleman and a true friend. He was, and always
will be a member of the Concord family and a part of our
legacy. He will be fondly missed."
Born in Suffolk, Va. On Sept. 16, 1925, Charles L. Byrd was
the son of a guitarist who first picked up the instrument at
age 10. He continued his musical studies at Virginia Tech and
during his stint in the Army. While stationed in France after
the Second World War, Byrd met and played with legendary
jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
Upon his return to the U.S., Byrd performed with pianists
Barbara Carroll and Freddie Slack, and studied at New York's
Hartnett Music School. But in the 1950s, Byrd turned his
attentions toward classical music, studying with noted
artists Andres Segovia and Sophocles Papas. The influence
of his classical training is evident on Byrd's first solo releases
for the Savoy label, including his excellent 1957 album Jazz
Byrd recorded music for U.S. Department of Agriculture films
in the late 1950s, and in 1961, was part of a contingent of
American musicians sent on a State Department tour of
South America. Byrd's experiences in Brazil made him an
enthusiastic convert to that country's burgeoning new
musical styles, as exemplified by the work of composer
Antonio Carlos Jobim. Byrd played tapes of the Brazilian
music to Getz, and the pair joined together to record Jazz
Samba, which made hits of Jobim melodies "Desafinado"
de Uma Nota So (One Note Samba)."
Over the years, Byrd recorded for the Riverside, Milestone
and Columbia labels; toured extensively; performed with
symphony orchestras and was the author of popular 1973
textbook Charlie Byrd's Melodic Method For Guitar. Since the
1970s, he's been a Concord recording artist, releasing around
20 albums for the label. Most recently, he's performed with
his group the Washington
Byrd; Jazz Guitarist Helped Boost Bossa Nova
From LA Times Staff and Wire Reports
Charlie Byrd, the classically trained jazz guitar virtuoso who
helped introduce bossa nova music to the United States, died of
cancer Tuesday at his home in Annapolis, Md. He was 74.
Comfortable with a wide range of music, Byrd recorded more
than 100 albums in a career that lasted five decades. Critics praised
him for his versatility, his quiet virtuosity and delicate, precise
lyricism. One critic called his music "polite jazz."
His records included the million-seller "Jazz Samba" in 1962,
made with saxophonist Stan Getz and bassist Keter Betts, and the
Grammy-nominated "Brazilian Soul" in 1981. His final recording, a
still-untitled tribute to Louis Armstrong, is scheduled for release in
January by Concord Records.
Starting in 1958 and continuing through the 1980s, Byrd made
several international trips as a goodwill ambassador for the State
Department, originally as a replacement for pianist Dave Brubeck.
After a tour of Brazil and exposure to its burgeoning bossa nova
style of jazz, Byrd worked with Getz to help make the sound widely
popular here. To many collectors, their record, "Jazz Samba,"
remains one of the most rewarding albums of its era.
"The thing that really made it was . . . the warmness and
freshness of it with Stan Getz," said bassist Betts, who played with
Byrd from 1957 to 1964. To Americans, "it was a whole new
An articulate, thoughtful man, Byrd also could be candid about
the hard road that a musician faces.
In an interview earlier this year with The Washingtonian
magazine, Byrd was asked what it took for a musician to survive.
He answered that one needs to discard "the illusion that there's a
place waiting for you in the industry, some niche to fill."
"Music's not like becoming a doctor, who can walk into a
community and find people who need him. A musician has to find a
way to make his music mean something special--spiritually or
however you can. And a musician has to learn to be frugal and to
carefully manage financial affairs."
More importantly, he added, "A person should design the way
he makes a living around how he wishes to make a life."
Asked why he chose the guitar, he responded: "The guitar chose
me. I played other instruments at times, but none of them suited me
like the guitar. It's something done with the hands, and I'm oriented
that way. If I weren't a guitarist, I'd be an artisan or cabinetmaker
Music infiltrated every part of his life, including his love of the
water. He named his cabin cruiser "B Minor 7 Flat 5," which his
sister-in-law, Elana Byrd, said was "a tricky guitar chord he liked."
He later changed the boat's name to "I'm Hip."
Charlie Lee Byrd was born in Suffolk, Va., and grew up in the
Tidewater community of Chuckatuck. He learned guitar as a child
from his mandolinist father, who ran a general store where musicians
gathered. As a youngster, Byrd played on radio shows in a family
band, which included his brother on bass.
During World War II, he served in the Army in Europe, first as
an infantryman and then in the Special Services division entertaining
troops. He also met the gifted Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt, an
encounter Byrd partly credited for his career choice.
Byrd attended Harnett National Music School in New York and
spent the next decade playing with jazz musicians Joe Marsala and
Freddie Slack as well as classical guitarists Sophocles Papas and
His first record was "Jazz Recital" in 1957, and a succession of
others followed, including a collection of 16th century compositions
called "Classical Byrd" in 1958 and 1960. His widest fame came
with the Getz album in 1962.
Byrd also wrote scores for the films "Dead to the World" in
1961 and "Bleep" in 1970, as well as music for stage productions in
the 1970s. Among those were "The Conversation of Patrolman
O'Connor," produced on Broadway, and a production of
Tennessee Williams' "The Purification" at Arena Stage.
Despite his broad musical tastes, in recent years he revisited jazz
standards. And although he once said his playing was "pretty much
the Segovia technique," he disliked fusing music styles, such as jazz
"It's a wedding that loses the best of both," he said. "It destroys
the fire of jazz, which should be hotblooded and swing hard, and it
makes inferior classical music."
Survivors include his wife of one year, Rebecca Byrd of
Annapolis; a daughter from his first marriage, Carol M. Rose of
Charlotte, N.C.; a daughter from his second marriage, Charlotte E.
Byrd of Santa Cruz, Calif.; two brothers, Jack R. Byrd of Suffolk,
Va., and Gene H. "Joe" Byrd of Edgewater, Md., and a