Interview with Don Byron

Interview with Don Byron

FRANK J. OTERI: I was reading in your Blue Note bio that you’re working on a Stravinsky album? What’s that about?

DON BYRON: I’m going to record a whole bunch of Stravinsky, yeah, and try to avoid, you know, the obvious, like Ebony Concerto and Octet. You know, Stravinsky to me is so much a part of everything I write, just a sense of inner voicings, a sense of creating hocket, the sense of, just on so many levels, I mean, you know… I was at Manhattan School of Music, and I had a clarinet teacher who was really down with Stravinsky. She’d give me these parts to Movements for Piano and Orchestra and shit, I couldn’t make anything out of it. I mean that’s an out piece. You know, “here, practice this – [sings] eee umm uh eeee.”

FRANK J. OTERI: [laughs]

DON BYRON: You know, what was I going to make of that! But she laid that on me, and like a lot of really good teachers, she didn’t massage it or try to kick my ass with it. And then, just all of a sudden, I understood, oh my God – this is the shit. This is like, this is, this is, all this Apollonian shit – I get it, I’m in it, I’m there! And then, when I started plowing through these scores, just from second to second, I mean, one of my tunes is like 2 seconds of one of his masterpieces. I mean, he’s got shit that lasts 2 seconds. I could take a tune out of that and change it up, you know, and steal the shit, I mean, he’s incredible. And you know, he really, he and Eddie Palmieri were just at the whole objectivity question. To me they were the kings of that. Ed Palmieri back in the day… oh God…

FRANK J. OTERI: The Sun of Latin Music, what a great record that is.

DON BYRON: But, I mean, just the whole thing between the inside thing, and then what he was playing in his solos, it was just, oh, it’s so violent.

FRANK J. OTERI: He also does one of the best Beatles covers of all time.

DON BYRON: On Live at Sing Sing?

FRANK J. OTERI: No, on The Sun of Latin Music, they do a version “You Never Give Me Your Money.” It’s funny, too. ‘Cause it comes out of left field. They’re doing this whole montuno thing with it…

A Mural from Two Perspectives
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DON BYRON: He is so great. But, I mean, the two of those guys really, just in terms of my whole aesthetic angle, just that you didn’t really have to be some music, you don’t really have to be music. You have to learn it. You have to study it. You have to try to understand it, and really understand its inner workings. I mean, people study music but they often don’t understand it. You know, and Stravinsky understands so much music. Man, opera and all that pagan Russian shit, which filters through his music. I mean, when you see a movie like Shadows and Forgotten Answers, ’cause then you see where the shit is coming from, but, that he had a grasp of that on top of all the Rimsky-Korsakov stuff that he had. I mean, you know, you don’t need me to praise how heavy Stravinsky is because I’m sure that’s been done. But, you know, if I make a Stravinsky record, it’s not even like there’s going to be a whole bunch of blowing on it. But I think that some unusual people will be playing in it, and I think we’re going to have some tribute pieces by some contemporary composers. You know, we’re going to be playing, you know, I’ll even conduct an orchestra piece or two, maybe we’ll do Danse Concertante, as opposed to the shit that everybody else records, because this cat has so much slammin’ music. I mean, just totally, you know, if that was the only thing you ever wrote, you’d be a bad cat. But, you know, people don’t even know all this music.

FRANK J. OTERI: And once again, he’s somebody who was not afraid to change styles throughout his life, and not be locked into any kind of…

DON BYRON: Even the last period is so fascinating, you know, where he’s really writing serially, but it doesn’t sound anything like Schoenberg – nothing. I mean, he’s a bad cat, but that’s, when you develop your voice at that level it doesn’t matter what you do. And that’s what I’ve tried to do the whole time, is just say, well, my voice is this. My compositional angle on this Afro-Caribbean stuff is this. My compositional angle on this funk is this. You know, so that it’s not like I want to make you smile and play some funk. I want you to listen to my angle. And that’s the voice. The voice that he has is so strong it doesn’t matter what he plays. He could play a tango, he could play some jazz, not that that really sounds like jazz, but still, I mean, it sounded like, somewhat like some of the jazz he might have heard. You know, I mean, so much of his music. I love his choral music, oh man…

FRANK J. OTERI: Symphony of Psalms.

DON BYRON: I mean, the late, like really atonal choral music. That’s a pretty high level. And he sustained a level of innovation for so long. And that’s really unusual, you know, most cats, they hit a certain point, and it’s like, it’s just okay. You know. The Flood, bad piece of music! It’s a bad piece of music. I don’t know. I mean, for me. Nobody’s even checking that out. I can’t remember the last time I heard anybody doing that, The Flood.

NATHAN MICHEL: Olly Knussen has a great recording.

DON BYRON: Oh yeah?

NATHAN MICHEL: It’s amazing. Yeah.

DON BYRON: It’s a bad piece of music. And the only recording I have of it is the TV thing that they made it for.

FRANK J. OTERI: We were at a luncheon, I guess it was about a month and a half ago with Robert Craft, who’s putting out a new Stravinsky edition. They actually recently found a solo clarinet piece that Stravinsky wrote for Picasso.


FRANK J. OTERI: He wrote it on a napkin and was really drunk at the time, and…

DON BYRON: How long was it?

FRANK J. OTERI: Minute and a half. I should get it to you. I’ll get a copy.

DON BYRON: You should!

FRANK J. OTERI: I will. I definitely will.

DON BYRON: You know, the Three Pieces … Because of my teacher, I had to play that shit. I might even have to play it on my record, but, it’s just, you know, I don’t want to be obvious.

FRANK J. OTERI: I’m sure whatever you do, it’s going to be extremely original, like everything else that you’ve done thus far.

DON BYRON: You know, we’ll see.

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