Classic Don Byas Sessions 1944-1946

When the all-time great tenor saxophonists are discussed, one name is too often ignored, Don Byas.  He had the misfortune to come along at a time when attention was dominated by Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Lester Young.  Byas did not have the unique strength of personality that enhanced the artistry of these three players.  He came from swing roots, but easily understood and adapted many of the musical approaches developed by the pioneers of the bebop movement. 

Frustrated by his lack of recognition, he found a new home base in Paris while playing with Don Redmond’s band during a European tour. Byas spent the balance of his life in Paris, Barcelona, and the Netherlands where he enjoyed the kind of appreciation and success that eluded him in his home nation. Ultimately, he returned to the United States in 1970 to appear at the Newport Jazz Festival but returned to Amsterdam where he succumbed to lung cancer at the too early age of 59.

The Classic Don Byas Session 1944-1946 (Mosaic -MD10-277) contain material from 51 sessions from a June 1944 date with “Hot Lips” Page’s Swing Seven to a September 1946 session with Byas accompanied by a piano trio.  In between, he is found in a variety of groups as a leader or as a sideman with the likes of “Hot Lips” Page, Emmett Berry, Hank  D’Amico, Cozy Cole, Clyde Hart, Oscar Pettiford, Pete Johnson, Cyril Haynes, Johnny Guarnieri, George Williams, Earl Bostic, Benny Carter and Don Redman.  The groups varied from quartets to big bands, with most of the groups being in the four-to-six-piece range.

Given the company he kept, with an impressive array of other players in addition to the leaders mentioned, he was obviously much appreciated by his peers.  This is particularly true at a series of sessions that took place in the New York City apartment of the Danish writer and jazz enthusiast Timmie Rosenkrantz in the Autumn of 1944.  The last session from the Rosenkrantz apartment had Thelonious Monk on piano, some of the earliest recorded examples of his genius.  Andraes Meyer has done a remarkable job of mastering the lacquer discs that were the source of the Rosenkrantz material.

Listening to the playing of Byas, it is apparent that he was truly a special player.  He was comfortable at any tempo, a ballad player on a par with Ben Webster, an aggressive up-tempo runner of a plethora of notes put together logically and effectively, a blues player with deep feeling and an all-around master of his instrument.  The more that you listen to Byas, the more you wonder at how this gentleman has been too often overlooked. And underappreciated.

There is a solution for anyone who has not developed an appreciation for Byas.  Get a copy of this amazing boxed set.  It is a major investment but one that is rewarding, repeatedly so.  The hours of listening pleasure that it offers are ones that you will value consistently.  (mosaicrecords.com)-JOE LANG

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