Interview with Don Byron

Interview with Don Byron

FRANK J. OTERI: You’ve done one live album so far. There are fewer and fewer live albums out there.

DON BYRON: They don’t sell or at least the record companies believe that they don’t sell.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, we’re living in the age of the producer. Everybody wants a record that’s produced.

DON BYRON: You can produce a live record. And one live record can be worse than another live record. They traditionally don’t sell. Now, the record you’re talking about…


DON BYRON: That’s a thing that I really have a lot of regrets about…When I was on Nonesuch, the scenario was essentially that I made Tuskegee, then I made the Mickey Katz and when I made that record it just seemed to swallow up everything. It was like, I’d be playing with a group at the Vanguard, and you know, every pick in every paper would be saying that we were playing Mickey Katz even though we had Smitty Smith and David Gilmore, you know, I mean, the band had nothing to do with that, and we said that. And yet that band developed some incredible presto-chango-like shit that that particular band could do. And then, you know, on the Nonesuch tip, it was too jazzy for them. They didn’t want to go there, with me, even though people were going to the gigs, and it was like, damn. It’s too strong. So that record was actually made after the fact, but I wanted to make that record at the Vanguard during the period. I think we had three different one-week engagements.

FRANK J. OTERI: So that’s why you thank Lorraine Gordon in the notes?

DON BYRON: Because that is how the thing developed. Really, what happened, was when Bill Frisell moved to Seattle, and I couldn’t get him, you know, because getting him meant the expense of flying him somewhere and getting him a hotel room, I had to put together something that approximated the level of racket that…

FRANK J. OTERI: You got Gilmore, who is wonderful.

DON BYRON: Well, Gilmore is wonderful, but he’s different.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah. It’s a totally different sound.

DON BYRON: The Gilmore and Uri thing seemed to have enough racket for me. And then there was a whole thing where Ralph Peterson was not allowed to play at the Vanguard, because he did, he did one of his record release parties at the Vanguard, and Lorraine, who takes everything really personally that happens at the Vanguard said, “You’ll never play here again. You can’t play here.” So it was literally like, you know, Ralph, to me, is one of the smartest, best drummers ever. I mean, you know, and people, you know, the Fo’tet, these records that we made together, the impact of those records among the cats, a lot of times, when I’m interacting with young musicians, that’s what they’re talking about. I mean, those were heavy records, but we had a great, almost telepathic rapport, but, you know, I couldn’t bring him in, so then I worked with Smitty, the group came together, but, you know, even from the very beginning, just what that group could do, the ability they had to learn music. We were playing Sondheim, we played everything. I mean, it was a group that had the real gestalt picture of all the things that I was interested in. I could take the compositions that I was doing with Six Musicians and have them play it. I could take some Sondheim, some Ellington, you know, it really didn’t matter, I could play a Four Tops tune, and they would get to the twists and turns of how to mess it up, but still, you know, they could play anything.

FRANK J. OTERI: Why the title No-Vibe Zone?

Sex/Work (Clarence/Anita)
from No-Vibe Zone
{Knitting Factory Works 191}
[29 seconds]
Order from Amazon
RealAudio Icon

DON BYRON: Because, like we were talking about before, to make that kind of music, you can’t be thinking about what it’s going to look like if you make that kind of music, you can’t be thinking, well, you know, Stanley Crouch wouldn’t approve.

FRANK J. OTERI: So you want to say, “this is not smooth jazz”…

DON BYRON: No, there’s nothing smooth about it. I think what was more being said with the title was just that this is a kind of music, and a kind of way of relating to music that doesn’t have anything to do with the kind of jazz mentality, that we’re playing one music, and that all this other music isn’t jazz, we shouldn’t take it seriously, the level of humor in it. ‘Cause it’s a funny… you know, I mean, that group was hilarious.

FRANK J. OTERI: So you would consider working with a vibes player.

DON BYRON: Oh yeah. You know, I used to play with Bryan Carrott in Rob Peterson’s stuff. No, it didn’t have anything to do with hating the vibes.

FRANK J. OTERI: And I would love to hear what Bobby Hutcherson would sound like with you.

DON BYRON: Yeah, and you know, I haven’t really interacted with a lot of those old famous guys, partially because they put you through a lot of shit, you know, in terms of money, and just being high maintenance. You know, I’ve been able to do what I’ve done with Jack because he’s a very nice person and you know, we’ve, I really didn’t approach him to play until I had, you know, a relationship that felt nice to him.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s strange, but the new record is probably the most straight-ahead record of everything you’ve done so far.


from Romance with The Unseen
{Blue Note 99545}
[27 seconds]
Order from Amazon
RealAudio Icon

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s really solid… But at the same time, just when you’re about to make predictions, then along comes a piece like “‘Lude,” which is just so out there. I love it. I wish it went on for more than a minute.

DON BYRON: Yeah, well.

FRANK J. OTERI: [laughs]

DON BYRON: You know, we were all so honored to play with Jack. The shit that he played was so profound, and yet, there’s a vibe that Frisell and I have about playing that’s just really kind of joyful, and you know, we might play any little spaces of information from any of the shit that we know, and I think that what we did was just apply that to Jack’s stuff, and Jack applied his stuff to our stuff. But what I liked about it was that, a lot of times when people play with these legendary cats, ’cause the jazz stuff is this kind of almost patriarchy shit: your connection to Miles, your connection to Keith, your connection to Wayne and Herbie, and you know. And then you kind of branch out from that. From Bill Evans, you know, depending, just all of these people are like branches. And I think what a lot of young lion cats did, when they play with Tony, when they play with someone like Jack, it’s like, oh, well, I’ll be Herbie, and you be Wayne, and you be Miles. I mean, even Wynton did that. You know, he even had a tune on his first record called “Ron and Tony”. And I just wanted to avoid that. I just wanted it to be honest. I had nothing to prove to Jack. And yet, you know, while I was making that record, I would just break down and cry, because to me, Jack’s Special Edition groups were some of the most meaningful groups in all of jazz, at the time that I was in school. It was the aesthetic of them, and the progressiveness of them and the smartness of them. I think he’s really underestimated as a bandleader. I saw Special Edition with Blythe and David Murray. I’ll never forget that. It was just like, whoa. And you know, individually, some of those cats, it’s like I could take it or leave it. It was just the concept of it, and the playing, and the swagger that the band had. The swagger. It was kind of like he took the stuff that the black avant-garde folks were working with, and just upgraded it to where it was really splitting the difference between, you know, some real straight-ahead stuff and some total free jazz stuff. But it was at, it was at a high level of that, it was such an interesting group. I liked the group better than, you know, I mean, hearing a David Murray group is such a different experience than hearing Special Edition with him in it.

FRANK J. OTERI: Any possibility of a live album with this quartet?

DON BYRON: Well, we recorded the last gig and the second set, I thought.

FRANK J. OTERI: At the Bottom Line.


FRANK J. OTERI: I wish I could have been there.

DON BYRON: Well, the second set was slammin’. I mean, I loved it. I haven’t listened to it. Maybe the first set was slammin’ but I did feel good with the second set. It was pretty slammin’.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.