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Charlie Byrd

Charlie Byrd

Early lifeCharlie Byrd was born in Suffolk, Virginia, in 1925 and grew up in the town of Chuckatuck, Virginia. His father, a mandolinist and guitarist, taught him how to play the acoustic steel guitar at age 10. Byrd had three brothers, Oscar, Jack, and Joe, who was a bass player. In 1942 Byrd entered the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and played in the school orchestra. In 1943 he was drafted into the United States Army for World War II, saw combat, then was stationed in Paris in 1945 where he played in an Army Special Services band.After the war, Byrd returned to the United States and went to New York, where he studied composition and jazz theory at the Harnett National Music School in Manhattan, New York. During this time he began playing a classical guitar. After moving to Washington, D.C. in 1950, he studied classical guitar with Sophocles Papas for several years. In 1954 he became a pupil of the Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia and spent time studying in Italy with Segovia.Byrd's greatest influence was the gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, who he saw perform in Paris.CareerIn 1957 Byrd met double bassist Keter Betts in a Washington, D.C., club called the Vineyard. The two began doing gigs together, and by October they were frequently performing at a club called the Showboat. In 1959 the pair joined Woody Herman's band and toured Europe for 3 weeks as part of a State Department-sponsored "goodwill" tour. The other members of the band were Vince Guaraldi, Bill Harris, Nat Adderley and drummer Jimmy Campbell. Byrd also led his own groups that sometimes featured his brother Joe. Byrd was also active as a teacher in the late 1950s; he trained several guitar students at his home in D.C., each being required to 'audition' for him, before he decided if they had potential enough to warrant his input.Byrd was first introduced to Brazilian music by his friend, radio host Felix Grant, who had established contacts in Brazil in the late 1950s, and who was well-known there by 1960, due to the efforts of Brazilian radio broadcaster Paulo Santos. Following a spring 1961 diplomatic tour of South America (including Brazil) for the State Department, Byrd returned home and met with Stan Getz at the Showboat Lounge. Byrd invited Getz back to his home to listen to some bossa nova recordings by João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim which he had brought back. Getz liked what he heard and the two decided that they wanted to make a record album of the songs. The task of creating an authentic sound, however, proved much more challenging than either had anticipated.Getz convinced Creed Taylor at Verve Records to produce the album, and Byrd and he assembled a group of musicians they both knew to create the recordings. These early sessions did not turn out to either man's liking, so Byrd gathered a group of musicians that had been to Brazil with him previously and practiced with them in Washington, D.C. until he felt they were ready to record. The group included his brother Gene Byrd, as well as Keter Betts, Bill Reichenbach and Buddy Deppenschmidt. Bill and Buddy were both drummers, and the combination made it easier to achieve authentic samba rhythms. Finally the group was deemed ready and Getz and Taylor arrived in Washington D.C. on February 13, 1962. They recorded in a building adjacent to All Souls Unitarian Church because of the building's excellent acoustics.The recordings were released in April 1962 as the album Jazz Samba, and by September the recording had entered Billboard's pop album chart. By March of the following year the album had moved all the way to number one, igniting a bossa nova craze in the American jazz community as a result. It should be noted that the term bossa nova did not become used in reference to the music until later. The album remained on the charts for seventy weeks, and Getz soon beat John Coltrane in a Down Beat poll. One of the album's most popular tunes was a Jobim hit, titled "Desafinado".Following the Success of Jazz Samba, Byrd was contracted to Riverside Records which rereleased six of his albums recorded for the small Offbeat label, a subsidiary of Washington records.In 1963, Byrd did a European tour with Les McCann and Zoot Sims, among others. Either in 1964 or 1965, Byrd appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival with Episcopal priest Malcolm Boyd, accompanying prayers from his book Are You Running With Me Jesus? with guitar. In 1967 Byrd brought a lawsuit against Stan Getz and MGM, contending that he was unfairly paid for his contributions to the 1962 album Jazz Samba. The jury agreed with Byrd and awarded him half of all royalties from the album.His earliest trios included bassist Keter Betts and drummers Buddy Deppinschmidt and Bertel Knox. In the early 1960s Betts joined Ella Fitzgerald and Byrd's brother Gene H. (Joe) Byrd became bassist for the group. Joe Byrd played with his brother until Charlie Byrd's death in 1999 of cancer. Byrd's trios also included drummers Billy Reichenbach for over ten years, Wayne Phillips for several years and for the last 19 years Chuck Redd.In 1967, or more likely 1968, his quartet was on a state department tour in Asia, which included Katmandu, Nepal. Upon invitation by the pastor, that stop included him playing both Bach and a spiritual at the worship service of the (International) Protestant Congregation on Sunday morning.In 1973 Byrd moved to Annapolis, Maryland, and in September of that year he recorded an interesting album with Cal Tjader titled Tambú, the only recording the two would make together. That same year Byrd joined guitarists Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel and formed the Great Guitars group, which also included drummer Johnny Rae. Byrd collaborated with Venezuelan pianist and composer Maestro Aldemaro Romero on the album Onda Nueva/The New Wave.From 1980 through 1996, he released several of his arrangements to the jazz and classical guitar community through Guitarist's Forum (gfmusic.com) including Charlie Byrd's Christmas Guitar Solos, Mozart: Seven Waltzes For Classical Guitar, and The Charlie Byrd Library featuring the music of George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. He also collaborated with the Annapolis Brass Quintet in the late 1980s, appearing with them in over 50 concerts across the United States and releasing two albums.A jazz supper club in Georgetown, DC also bore his name, "Charlie's". When he died, he was "at home" in the King of France Tavern of the Maryland Inn.Upon his death, a scholarship was endowed in his name at the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University.Byrd played for several years at a jazz club in Silver Spring, Maryland, called The Showboat II which was owned and managed by his manager, Peter Lambros. He was also home-based at the King of France Tavern nightclub at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis from 1973 until his death in 1999. In 1992 the book "Jazz Cooks"—by Bob Young and Al Stankus—was published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, a compilation of recipes that include a few recipes from Byrd. He also authored the 1973 publication Charlie Byrd's Melodic Method for Guitar.Personal lifeByrd was married to Rebecca Byrd, and has two daughters from previous marriages, Carol Rose of Charlotte, NC, and Charlotte Byrd of Crownsville, MD. He loved sailboating, and owned a twenty-six foot boat called "I'm Hip" that he sailed to various parts of the world. Charlie Byrd died of lung cancer on December 2, 1999 at his home in Annapolis, Maryland.Awards1999 - Knighted by the government of Brazil as a Knight of the Rio Branco1997 - deemed a "Maryland Art Treasure" by the Community Arts Alliance of Maryland

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