I Remember Jaki Byard – Pianist and Composer

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Pianist Jaki Byard from April of 1985. Interview conducted by Dr. Thom Horning, and Bill Anderson of WRUW radio in Cleveland. From the compilation, Tri-C Jazz Fest Cleveland, 30th Anniversary Collection, Willard Jenkins, Producer.

Jaki (John) Byard (June 15, 1922 in Worcester, Massachusetts — February 11, 1999 in New York City) was an American jazz pianist and composer who also played trumpet and saxophone, among several other instruments. He was noteworthy for his eclectic style, incorporating everything from ragtime and stride to free jazz. In describing his contribution to the Phil Woods album Musique du Bois, National Public Radio described him as “one of the most compelling and versatile pianists in jazz”.

Byard began playing professionally at the age of 15. After serving in World War II he toured with Earl Bostic in the late 1940s, and, by now based in Boston, made his recording debut with Charlie Mariano in 1951. Later, he was a member of the bands of Herb Pomeroy (1952-55, recording in 1957) and Maynard Ferguson (1959-62).
Moving to New York, Byard recorded extensively with Charles Mingus in the periods 1962 to 1964 and 1970, touring Europe with him in 1964. He also made important recordings as a sideman with Eric Dolphy, Booker Ervin and Sam Rivers. As a leader, he recorded a string of albums for the Prestige label during the 1960s. He fronted an occasional big band, the Apollo Stompers. He taught at the New England Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, Hartt School of Music and the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.

Byard was shot dead in 1999. The circumstances surrounding his death have not been determined.