Born: January 24, 1965 Primary Instrument: Piano
Pianist / vocalist / composer Warren Byrd is a Hartford native with an international touring schedule after many fruitful years playing Jazz throughout Connecticut, Southern New England, and New York.
Early Years: He’s youngest in a family of music lovers. Showing talent early on, he was encouraged to perform, singing in the Gospel choir at age 4. Also, he was nurtured to love big band jazz early. Would pursue a Theatre career starting at age 14 and had amassed extensive performing credits throughout his teen years. He began composing music at about age 11. Grew into a passion for bebop jazz, especially the music of Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson. Studied Jazz Piano and Music Theory notably with Thomassina Neely, Music Director of Warburton Community Church and R. Leslie Childs Music Teacher at South Catholic High School. Several consecutive summers in the Hartford Stage Company Summer Youth Theatre exposed him to fine musicianship in the aegis of John Johnson, Ed DeGroat, and Stephen Barnicle leading to a curiosity for 20th century classical music, especially Stravinsky. By high school graduation 1983, he’d earn a full scholarship for Classical Voice at Hartt College of Music. He would soon leave to forge his own studies of Composition, Theory, and Jazz Piano.
Formative Developmental Period: 1983 to 1989 were spent in toil, frustration, and study. He listened and read as much as possible seeking the artistic wisdom. He’d focused on jazz history and developed a deep respect for the work of Ellington & Strayhorn, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Igor Stravinsky, culling his compositional voice. Many of his Hartford, Connecticut theatre ties were still strong. He worked with The Hartford Contemporary Dance Ensemble as their principal accompanist. He’d create improvisational soundscapes with the Performing Ensemble(formerly the Operation Push Performing Ensemble) as well as recite poetry and act in their productions. His musical career began to take hold in 1987 working with Flautist Rick Brown. He created the music appreciation Wednesdays at Center for Youth and Community Resources Summer Camp 1988. He co- formed the McGhee/Byrd Duo to concentrate on the works of Ellington, Strayhorn, Mingus, and other contemporary jazz artists. He began directing a youth choir and an adult choir at Shiloh Baptist Church in Hartford for whom he would arrange pieces, compose, and teach. He began frequenting the local jam sessions and meeting other jazz musicians. Soon he’d become a full-time Hartford-based freelance musician
Professional Developmental Period: 1990 to 2002 were years of honing his musicianship, deepening his ties, and managing the first wave of reaping. He became known as one of the busiest, most versatile musicians in Hartford county. Highlights of the period would be:Associations with groups promoting original works: Nubian Nation(urban/jazz hybrid)1991to 1993; Espada(latin/funk/jazz)1989, 1993-1996; Mike DiRubbo Quartet(straight-ahead jazz); The Explorers Quintet(with Trombonist Steve Davis, straight-ahead jazz); Mixashawn Quartet(with Lee Rozie reeds, etc “Omni-pop”avant-garde jazz) to name a few.He’d amass a huge list of prominent jazz figures with whom he’d earn sideman credits, a short list of whom would be Eddie Henderson, Archie Shepp, Javon Jackson, J.D. Parran, Houston Person, Rosanne Vitro, and of course, Hartford’s native luminaries such as Paul Brown, Nat Reeves, Mario Pavone, and trombonist Steve Davis (Thelonious Monk Tribute in 1994 would stick with him and comparsions throughout his career to Monk would ever shadow him hence). Dance accompaniment would be a for him a consistent source of joy and inspiration, playing classes for the Greater Hartford Academy of the Performing Arts from 1990 September and within a ten-year span expanded to playing of the School of the Hartford Ballet(1995-1999), Hartford Camerata Conservatory(1993-1998), Trinity College(1999-2001), and first-call accompanist for many master classes in dance. Also composed pieces such as Four Pieces for Dance for Susan Palmer’s Footnotes Dance Company also for the Fuller Dance Company collaborating with Justine Fuller in many settings.. He also performed scores for and composed pieces and soundscapes for many other dance troupes and choreographers including Judy Dworin, Avis Hatcher, David Dorfman, Peggy Lyman, Alvin Ailey touring Company, and many others.Composed incidental music for Hartford Children’s Theatre productions of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe(1990); The Secret Garden(1992); and the Arkansas Bear(1993)In 1996, he began working with David Chevan, then an associate professor of music at Southern Connecticut State University, that would lead to their co-founding of the Afro-Semitic Experience in 1998.During this period he also performed on many recordings with some of the aforementioned artists and bands such as The Moon Knows with The Explorers Quintet (Brownstone 1994) also New Terrain(1997); participated in WWUH’s Jazz in the Wilde as a solo pianist(1995); and recorded the first of several albums with David Chevan and the Afro-Semitic Experience with Avadim Hayinu: Once We Were Slaves(Reckless 1998). He produced his first album in 1999, Truth Raised Twice(Byrdspeak Productions, released in April 2000)He was placed in the top 25 of the 1999 Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition.Nominated for Advocate’s Best of Hartford in the Keyboard category 8 timesin 1999, David Chevan and he expanded their duo to form the celebrated group the Afro-Semitic Experience and recorded their second CD This Is the Afro- Semitic Experience(Reckless 2000)Also in 1999, he formed his band The Warren Byrd Group. They would appear in festivals and venues around Southern New England as well as accompanying visiting artists. They also appeared as a guest artist with New Haven Community Symphony conducted by Gordon Emerson in a rendition of Bach Meets Blues, a concerto for piano trio and orchestra. In February 2001, he works as a sideman for Saskia Laroo, jazz trumpet player from the Netherlands. Impressed by his playing, she requests his services as pianist/keyboardist for her next appearance in Connecticut in June of that year. This began their ten-year and current association.
Current Period:By 2002, he had become a experienced special guest, all-star bandmember, sideman and freelance pianist with a long list of credits. 2002 would also mark the intensifying of Laroo and Byrd’s association. He has become her principal keyboardist and has accompanied her appearances on over 100 international tours in ten years. In this context, they had begun experimenting as a duo act touring and performing in many different settings. He appears on three Laroo Records releases: J-5 featuring Funk De Nite(2006), Really Jazzy(2008), and Laroo/Byrd Duo—Two of a Kind: A Tribute to Miles and Monk (2011).David Chevan and he would create six more albums together on Reckless Productions: Let Us Break Bread(2001), Days of Awe(2003), Plea for Peace(2005), Yizkor for Martyrs(2007), The Road That Heals the Splintered Soul(2009 awarded the Doris Duke Foundation Grant for the Development of Original Works), Further Definitions of Days of Awe(2010) and presently working on the next project scheduled for this coming Fall. Several of these album projects are the result of research grants from Southern Connecticut State University. He continues to invest in the development of his artistry, compose new works, intiate own performance and recording projects, freelance with many Southern New England jazz and pop music acts as well as other international artists and acts, do educational and consulting work, accompanying dance at the Wesleyan University School of Dance in Middletown, Connecticut(since 2004). He now is promoting as a bandleader “The Byrdspeak Ensemble”, Trio Warren Byrd and Warren Byrd Solo, as a co-bandleader: Duo Laroo/Byrd and The Afro-Semitic Experience. He is preparing a new CD album: “Charms of the Fourth Dimension”.
His deep respect for all arts, his experiences in the theatre as a youth, his work with Dance, his extensive touring schedule, all kinds of gigs and performances of diverse styles, his willingness to absorb old and new, his curiosity of all artifacts of the human spirit may be reflected inversely in his work motto: “...Music speaks free-spirit tongues unleashing grace on souls dancing toward daring peace...”.
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