Born: September 16, 1925 | Died: November 11, 1999 Primary Instrument: Guitar
Charlie Byrd jammed with Django Reinhardt, recorded with Woody Herman, studied with the great Segovia, and with Stan Getz introduced the Brazilian bossa nova to international audiences. He then proceeded to form a super guitar trio with Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis. His musical interests took in virtually every form in which the guitar found a prominent voice
Charlie Byrd began playing the guitar at an early age under the guidance of his father. In his teens he was playing plectrum guitar with local groups in Virginia and Washington. At the Polytechnic Institute in Virginia, he played guitar with the school band. During World War II he played with an Army band in Europe. After the war he settled in New York where he played with local jazz groups such as Joe Marsala and Freddie Slack.
In 1950 Charlie Byrd returned to the Washington DC area where he began studying the classical guitar. He had always had an interest in classical guitar and decided at this time to begin a serious study of the instrument. He studied guitar with Sophocles Papas and music theory with Thomas Simmons. In 1954 he went to Italy to study with Andres Segovia.
It was shortly after that trip that he formed a jazz trio for the first time and began performing in local clubs. His instrument of choice for his trio was the concert guitar. In the trio format Byrd’s found the perfect form for mixing his love of jazz and blues with classical music. The orientation of the music for the trio was jazz, but jazz infused with classical technique and sound. Between 1957 and 1960 his trio performed in and around Washington. During that time Charlie Byrd made some of his best recorded work: “Jazz Recital,” ‘(57) “Blues For Night People,” (’57) “Jazz at The Showboat,” (’58) “Guitar in the Wind,” (’59) “The Artistry of Charlie Byrd, was in 1960 and in 1961 he released “Charlie Byrd at The Village Vanguard.” It was this recording that introduced Charlie to a broader audience than he had had in Washington DC.
In 1962 Charlie Byrd and his trio traveled to South America under the sponsorship of the State Department. When he returned to the US he made the landmark recording with Stan Getz “Jazz Samba,” this record caught on with the listening public and made Charlie Byrd a household name.
Charlie Byrd continued to evolve, and did some exceptional recordings with Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis as “The Great Guitars,” often employing a rhythm section which featured his brother, Joe Byrd, on bass, and drummer Chuck Redd. He continued to record for Concord, and produced a prodigious amount of work for that label. His last recording was “For Louis,” his tribute to Louis Armstrong, done in 1999 right before his death.
He brought to the concert guitar both a high degree of sophistication due to his classical training and a kind of down home quality that came through when he played blues and straight ahead jazz.