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Byron, Don

music band latin played

Byron, Don, innovative jazz clarinetist, bass clarinetist; b. Bronx, N.Y., Nov. 8, 1958. His father was from the Caribbean and played bass in calypso bands. Don started playing clarinet at age seven, attending Music and Arts H.S.; he concentrated on classical music while also getting involved in local Latin bands and arranging for them. He attended the Manhattan School of Music for a year before transferring to the New England Cons, (c. 1977–78), where he studied alto saxophone (and classical clarinet, with Joe Allard). While in Boston, Byron pursued his steadily broadening interests, including the conservatory’s Klezmer band and Latin bands, in some of which he played piano; he also worked in Gunther Schuller’s New England Ragtime Ensemble. Back in N.Y. after graduating, he was recruited for Hamiet Bluiett’s group Clarinet Family, comprised of eight clarinets and a rhythm section. Other engagements followed with Geri Allen, the Ellington Band under Mercer Ellington, Mario Bauza, Bobby Previte, the David Murray Big Band, Reggie Workman, Craig Russell, Uri Caine, Ralph Peterson’s Fo’tet, and Bill Frisell. Byron has also pursued his Klezmer activities, even forming his own group that pays tribute to Mickey Katz. He has attracted much attention as perhaps the only African American in that field on a regular basis (as opposed to the many blacks, even Charlie Parker, who have played at an occasional bar mitzvah.) He pursues his classical side by leading Semaphore, a new chamber music ensemble, and plays Latin music with Music for Six Musicians. He has remained an independent thinker and an outspoken eclectic, moving into the music of Raymond Scott and composing his own unique pieces. In 1999 he was composing music to accompany the silent Ernie Kovacs “Eugene” comedy shows, to be performed live in 2000.

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