Bringing The World Home To You

© 2024 WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
120 Friday Center Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
919.445.9150 | 800.962.9862
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Music of Don Byas Featuring James Carter

James Carter.
James Carter.

Born in 1912 in Oklahoma, Carlos Wesley Byas learned to play tenor saxophone in the Coleman Hawkins style, with a full-bodied tone and fierce swing. Working with a band that accompanied singer Ethel Waters, "Don" Byas first landed in New York in 1937. In 1941, he took over for Lester Young in the Count Basie Orchestra ("the hottest chair in jazzdom," writes historian Dan Morgenstern). With Basie, Byas recorded a breakthrough solo on "Harvard Blues" — a solo that every tenor worth his or her salt learned by heart.

In 1944, Byas leapt an emerging stylistic gap and played bebop — before that style even had a name — with Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach. He recorded "A Night in Tunisia" with Gillespie in 1946. Then Byas moved to Amsterdam, where he lived and worked until he died in 1972. So it's fitting that a tribute to Byas comes from the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, July 2006.

A decade after Byas' death, young James Carter (born in 1969 in Detroit) was taping Byas' music off public radio, listening to it over and over on his Walkman with a determine zeal to figure out every note on his horn. James took it further; he absorbed the Byas seriousness and competitiveness, at any tempo. Onstage at North Sea, Carter nails his mentor's sound, speed and repertoire. James stops and talks briefly about Byas, calling him the link between Hawkins and John Coltrane. James Carter is the ideal contemporary player for a tribute to Don Byas, for whom he feels "mad respect."

Copyright 2007 WBGO

More Stories