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Byard, Jaki (John A. Jr.)

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Byard, Jaki (John A. Jr.), jazz pianist, tenor saxophonist, composer; b. Worcester, Mass., June 15, 1922; found dead in Queens, N.Y., Feb. 11, 1999. After playing trumpet and piano as a child, Byard learned trombone while in the Army. After touring and recording stints with Earl Bostic during the 1940s and 1950s, Byard moved to Boston, where he was a mainstay of the jazz scene. He had stints as a saxophonist and composer in Herb Pomeroy’s big band, worked with Maynard Ferguson (1959–62), then Charles Mingus (on and off from 1963 to 1970). He said that Mingus hired him for Town Hall Concert because he needed somebody who could play “old-fashioned.” He also led his own groups, including one in 1965 with Joe Farrell at the Hartford Jazz Society. When Duke Ellington became sick just before he died, Byard played piano in the Ellington Orch. He also headed the Apollo Stompers, a sorely underrated aggregation, in Boston and N.Y. Byard was also prominently involved in jazz education, teaching at Berklee and the New England Cons, of Music, among other institutions. He was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head at his Queens home. There was no weapon found at the scene, which eliminated the suspicion of suicide. Police investigated the shooting, but the mystery remains unsolved.

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