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Don Byas: Don Byas 1945

Nobody played better tenor sax in the mid-1940s than Don Byas. Byas’ running of chord changes and big tone indicated his roots in Coleman Hawkins’ style, but Art Tatum also marked him, as Don’s use of substitute chords indicates. Harmonically, he was as advanced as the boppers.

On the opening four tracks here, in fact, Byas and Dizzy Gillespie play together in vocalist Albinia Jones’ band. Other selections find Don in a quintet with Buck Clayton and quartets with Erroll Garner or Johnny Guarnieri. The front line on the final three cuts contains two tenors, an alto and trumpet. Vocalist Ruby Blakey appears on one of these.

Byas excels everywhere. His outstanding chops and fertile imagination benefit him on the fast tempoed tunes, during which he’s still able to produce an attractive vibrato. His lush tone can be heard to advantage on ballads.

Other highlights include Gillespie’s powerful work, Clayton’s tasty spots and the playing of Garner and Guarnieri, who both have synthesized elements from the Earl Hines and stride schools.

Originally Published