Charlie’s career was far too long and successful to justifiably summarize in one article. From the mid-50s to early 60s he released seven jazz recordings with band members including Bill Harris, Nat Adderly, and his own brother, Joe Byrd. He even took on his own pupils during this time using a stringent selection process to decide who merited time from his busy schedule.
In 1961, Byrd travelled to South America on a diplomatic tour funded by the U.S. State Department. Having previously been exposed to the Brazilian music that would end up shaping his career and defining his sound forever, Byrd practised and developed that sound with accompanying musicians during the length of tour, including his other brother, Gene Byrd.
Before Byrd’s trip, the Brazilian and Latin bossa nova musical style was largely unknown to North America and much of Europe. When Byrd returned to the U.S., he met with saxophonist Stan Getz who, through Byrd, also became infatuated with bossa nova and the two began working on developing a group and integrating the sound.
After gruelling over finding the right members and the right sound, the final product was 1962’s Jazz Samba, an album that would spark a change in North America’s jazz community forever. It rose to the top of Billboard’s pop charts and even reached the number one spot in the second year of its release, sending Byrd and Getz right past John Coltrane on the charts.
While our previous columns have featured guitarists whose styles have majorly impacted other guitarists in theirs, or other genres; Byrd’s contribution was not simply for his finger-picking style of play, but rather his impact on all of jazz. The Latin influence that would (and continues to) dominate jazz was so profound that Byrd’s mark on any guitarist within the genre is virtually unmatchable.
His career would flourish from that point in the early 1960s right up until his death in 1999 at age 74.
Charlie Byrd’s discography is far more vast than most guitarists we could call to mind, with releases of previous recordings even after his death.
Throughout the 1980s, Byrd was matched up with electric guitarists Herb Ellis and Barnie Kesssel to form The Great Guitars and released numerous recordings such as Great Guitars and Great Guitars 2, featuring Byrd’s humbled and sophisticated, classically trained world jazz style.
But for anyone looking to tap into the greatness that was Charlie Byrd, look no further than Jazz Samba. There`s no summation for an album of immaculate musicians playing Latin jazz that would change an entire landscape for decades to come. While Byrd’s influential finger-picking can be heard throughout the album alongside Getz’s star-studded saxophone playing, “Samba Dees Days” is Byrd’s original composition on the album and best demonstrates his contribution to jazz through bossa nova influence.
Got your own Charlie Byrd recommendations? Leave a comment in the box below to let us know what you like best from Charlie Byrd!