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Mon, 10.21.1912

Don Byas, Tenor Saxophonist born

Don Byas

On this date in 1912, Don Byas was born. He was a Black tenor jazz saxophonist.

Don Wesley Byas was born in Oklahoma and began playing music as an alto saxophonist and, in 1933, became a tenor player. Two years later, he moved to California and began playing with Lionel Hampton and Buck Clayton on the dance band circuit. In 1937, he moved to New York, working with the likes of Andy Kirk and Benny Carter, and within two years, replacing Lester Young as a lead tenor with the Count Basie band.

Byas was well known for his solo; he left Basie in 1943, working with smaller groups and recording creatively for many independent labels and companies. Byas was among the most versatile and omnipresent musicians in the New York scene in the 1940s.  He and Dizzy Gillespie formed the well-known and groundbreaking Onyx Club band in 1944. Byas’ love of the tenor and his ability to convey chromatic harmony on the tenor made him one of the few swing-era soloists welcomed into the world of Be-bop.

He spent several years in Europe, returning briefly in 1970. Don Byas died on August 24, 1972.

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All That Jazz: The Illustrated Story of Jazz Music
General Editor: Ronald Atkins
Copyright 1996, Carlton Books Limited
ISBN 0-76519-953-X

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