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For over two decades, Don Byron has been a singular voice in an astounding range of musical contexts, exploring widely divergent traditions while continually striving for what he calls "a sound above genre." As clarinetist, saxophonist, composer, arranger, and social critic, he redefines every genre of music he plays, be it classical, salsa, hip-hop, funk, rhythm & blues, klezmer, or any jazz style from swing and bop to cutting-edge downtown improvisation. He has been consistently voted best clarinetist by critics and readers alike in leading international music journals since being named "Jazz Artist of the Year" by Down Beatin 1992. Acclaimed as much for his restless creativity as for his unsurpassed virtuosity as a player, Byron has presented a multitude of projects at major music festivals around the world, including recent performances in Vienna, San Francisco, Hong Kong, London, Monterey, New Zealand, Australia, and on New York's Broadway.
Recordings: Don Byron has released a diverse array of recordings. Since his ground-breaking debut album, Tuskegee Experiments (Nonesuch, 1992), he has recorded prolifically: Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz (Nonesuch, 1993), a tribute to the sly and bitingly humorous works of the neglected 1950's klezmer band leader; Music for Six Musicians (Nonesuch, 1995) which explores a significant side of his musical identity, the Afro-Caribbean heritage of his family and the neighborhood where he grew up; No-Vibe Zone (Knitting Factory Works, 1996), a vibrant live recording featuring his quintet; and Bug Music (Nonesuch,1996), his spirited showcase of the nascent Swing Era music of Raymond Scott, John Kirby and the young Duke Ellington.
His 1998 Blue Note debut, Nu Blaxploitation, is a funk and hip-hop inspired and "genre-bending" musical meditation with his band Existential Dred, with poet Sadiq and rap icon Biz Markie in performances reminiscent of the spoken-word pieces of Gil Scott-Heron, Amiri Baraka and Henry Rollins; Romance With The Unseen (1999), features a quartet consisting of guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Jack DeJohnette playing a wide-ranging repertory, from obscure Ellington ("A Mural from Two Perspectives") to popular Beatles ("I'll Follow the Sun") to Byron originals loaded with socio-political commentary ("Bernhard Goetz, James Ramseur and Me", a reference to the notorious 1984 New York City subway shooting).
With 2000's A Fine Line: Arias & Lieder, Byron continued to blur stylistic borders by exploring and expanding the definition of the modern art song from Robert Schumann and Giacomo Puccini to Roy Orbison and Stevie Wonder. His 2001 release, You Are #6, once again finds him in the company of his longest-standing group, Music for Six Musicians, paying tribute to the Latin and Afro-Caribbean rhythms at his musical roots. His latest Blue Note release, Ivey-Divey, inspired by Lester Young's classic trio recording with Nat King Cole and Buddy Rich, features pianist Jason Moran and Jack DeJohnette and is also his recording debut on tenor saxophone. Ivey-Divey received a Grammy nomination for best instrumental solo and was voted Album of the Year 2004 by Jazz Times Magazine.
His most recent CD releases are A Ballad for Many, an album of his compositions performed by the Bang On A Can All-Stars (Cantaloupe Music) and Do the Boomerang, his interpretations of the music of saxophonist, singer, and soul/R&B legend Junior Walker (Blue Note, October 2006).
Don Byron is also a gifted teacher, who has led residencies at the University of California San Diego, the University of Nevada Reno, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Columbia University. From 2005-2009, he was a Visiting Associate Professor at The State University of New York (Albany) where he taught theory, saxophone, improvisation, and composition. In 2007/08, he also taught at MIT as a Martin Luther King Visiting Professor. In 2007, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a United States Artists Prudential Fellowship. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for composition for his "7 Etudes for Piano" in 2009. As the recipient for "The Samuel Baber Rome Prize for Composition," he just concluded a one-year residency at the American Academy in Rome where he began work on the score for his first opera.