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Don Byron: Don Leaps In

Don Byron
Don Byron

In mid-spring 1946, tenor saxophone legend Lester Young entered a Hollywood recording studio and laid down some of the first tracks of his postwar solo career. His partners were Nat “King” Cole, one of the era’s most successful entertainers, and Buddy Rich, popularly regarded as the world’s greatest drummer. No bassist was employed on the session, the results of which were issued by Clef and repackaged years later by Verve. A mere footnote in most biographies, The Lester Young Trio has long been an unassuming highlight of Young’s catalog.

In late-spring 2004, another trio of musicians entered another studio, this one in upstate New York. Recording several of the same standards picked by Young, they readily invoked the spirit of their predecessors. But what clarinetist Don Byron, pianist Jason Moran and drummer Jack DeJohnette produced together is no time-capsule exhumation. Ivey-Divey, Byron’s latest for Blue Note, retells Pres’ trio tale in an ultramodern language. And close examination of the album’s backstory yields a host of lessons-not only about Young and Byron, but also rhythm sections, repertory and the innovations of jazz’s last 60 years.

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Originally Published
Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is the director of editorial content for WBGO and a longtime contributor to JazzTimes, which published 125 installments of his column “The Gig” between 2004 and 2017. For 12 years, he was a critic for The New York Times; prior to that, he wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, the Philadelphia City Paper, and several other publications. He is the author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century (2018) and the co-author of George Wein’s autobiography Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (2003).