Sunday, May 04, 2008

Jaki Byard Said

Jaki Byard was a significant player among many in the new music movement of jazz in the 1960s. Born in Worcester, a good-sized industrial town in the mid section of Massachusetts, he played for a number of years in Boston before he went on to New York. His work with Charles Mingus is most notable, but he created his own body of work that mixed strains from traditional jazz and avant garde elements.

I came to know of Byard through his solo work. He’d divide time between New York and Bosotn in the 1970s; he’d returned to New England to teach at The New England Conservatory of Music. He’d visit the radio station WBUR and Tony Cinamo.. I was finding out about jazz through those morning shows. And finding out about Boston as well. Was about done with undergraduate journalism. Found out Jaki Byard was living in my neighborhood, Mission Hill, on Wait Street, when he was staying in town.

I had a notion to investigate the Boston jazz history. Not much came of my notion, but whatever it was I did set me up for a point in 1978 when I met Sunnyland Slim, and had a suddenly easy entry into a music at a very significant level. Published ‘Sunnyland Blues’ in 1990.

Boston jazz was somewhat diffuse, not exactly a big deal, compared to New York.But there was Roy Haines. Serge Challoff, Joe Venuti. James Europe was killed here. Malcom X lived here. Boston players included Ray Santisi, Alan Dawson, Herb Pomeroy. I don’t do it justice in these small notes. For people here it was a real scene. Before the country became more national, less regional. Same thing happened with beers.

For Jaki Byard Worcester was a switch on the circuit. Boston too. As I said, we figured out somehow he was living in Mission Hill on Wait He was going to lunch at Newbury Steak House and some of the group waited there. He was leading a band of students – The Apollo Stompers – and they would play weekly at Michael’s Pub down near Northeastern University and the Conservatory. Somehow I hooked up with him for an interview. Where I saw him, at the conservatory seemed like a metaphor for the city. Many practice rooms that emitted many timbres, styles and degrees of talent. I pulled some of his conversation for the PDF notes for Titanic Transmissions, Jeff Hull’s art show accompaniment.

What we talked about where was the art came from. Jaki was open, after initial reluctance. He left a big mark on this town with his art and teaching.

In the day-o I talked with Mingus colleague and Son of Wooster Jaki Byard.
And asked him where the images emerged that informed that sound.
Might as well have talked to a fish about a helicopter, or so I thought at first.
How penetrate veil?
There aren’t words for this stuff.
Jaki was at the Conservatory, bug-eyeing me like I was a crippled crab without a crutch.
The sound?
Where’s it come from?

I stood my little plot of ground, probably empleading scowlfully.
Then Byard came around to the idea.
Where does this stuff come from?
It intrigued him, at least somewhat.
Back in Wooster I’d walk behind bands marching; digging on there rhythm, Jaki Byard said.
The rhythm of the Lunceford Band.
Movement was what he was about.

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