Charlie Lee Byrd (September 16, 1925 – December 2, 1999) was an American guitarist. His earliest and strongest musical influence was Django Reinhardt, the gypsyguitarist. Byrd was best known for his association with Brazilian music, especially bossa nova. In 1962, Byrd collaborated with Stan Getz on the album Jazz Samba, a recording which brought bossa nova into the mainstream of North American music.

Byrd played fingerstyle on a classical guitar.

Contents Edit


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Personal life
  • 4 Awards
  • 5 Discography
    • 5.1 As sideman
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links

Early life[edit] Edit

Charlie Byrd was born in Suffolk, Virginia, in 1925 and grew up in the town of Chuckatuck, Virginia. His father, a mandolinist and guitarist, taught him how to play the acoustic steel guitar at age 10. Byrd had three brothers, Oscar, Jack, and Joe, who was a bass player. In 1942 Byrd entered the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and played in the school orchestra. In 1943 he was drafted into the United States Army for World War II, saw combat, then was stationed in Paris in 1945 where he played in an Army Special Services band.

After the war, Byrd returned to the United States and went to New York, where he studied composition and jazz theory at the Harnett National Music School in Manhattan, New York. During this time he began playing a classical guitar. After moving to Washington, D.C. in 1950, he studied classical guitar with Sophocles Papas for several years. In 1954 he became a pupil of the Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia and spent time studying in Italy with Segovia.

Byrd's greatest influence was the gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, who he saw perform in Paris.[1][2][3]

Career[edit] Edit

In 1957 Byrd met double bassist Keter Betts in a Washington, D.C., club called the Vineyard. The two began doing gigs together, and by October they were frequently performing at a club called the Showboat. In 1959 the pair joined Woody Herman's band and toured Europe for 3 weeks as part of a State Department-sponsored "goodwill" tour. The other members of the band were Vince Guaraldi, Bill Harris, Nat Adderley and drummer Jimmy Campbell.[4] Byrd also led his own groups that sometimes featured his brother Joe. Byrd was also active as a teacher in the late 1950s; he trained several guitar students at his home in D.C., each being required to 'audition' for him, before he decided if they had potential enough to warrant his input.

Byrd was first introduced to Brazilian music by his friend, radio host Felix Grant, who had established contacts in Brazil in the late 1950s, and who was well-known there by 1960, due to the efforts of Brazilian radio broadcaster Paulo Santos. Following a spring 1961 diplomatic tour of South America (including Brazil) for the State Department, Byrd returned home and met with Stan Getz at the Showboat Lounge. Byrd invited Getz back to his home to listen to some bossa nova recordings by João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim which he had brought back. Getz liked what he heard and the two decided that they wanted to make a record album of the songs. The task of creating an authentic sound, however, proved much more challenging than either had anticipated.[5][6]

Getz convinced Creed Taylor at Verve Records to produce the album, and Byrd and he assembled a group of musicians they both knew to create the recordings. These early sessions did not turn out to either man's liking, so Byrd gathered a group of musicians that had been to Brazil with him previously and practiced with them in Washington, D.C. until he felt they were ready to record. The group included his brother Gene Byrd, as well as Keter Betts, Bill Reichenbach and Buddy Deppenschmidt. Bill and Buddy were both drummers, and the combination made it easier to achieve authentic samba rhythms. Finally the group was deemed ready and Getz and Taylor arrived in Washington D.C. on February 13, 1962. They recorded in a building adjacent to All Souls Unitarian Church because of the building's excellent acoustics.[5]

The recordings were released in April 1962 as the album Jazz Samba, and by September the recording had entered Billboard's pop album chart. By March of the following year the album had moved all the way to number one, igniting a bossa nova craze in the American jazz community as a result. It should be noted that the term bossa nova did not become used in reference to the music until later. The album remained on the charts for seventy weeks, and Getz soon beat John Coltrane in a Down Beat poll. One of the album's most popular tunes was a Jobim hit, titled "Desafinado".[5]

Following the Success of Jazz Samba, Byrd was contracted to Riverside Records which rereleased six of his albums recorded for the small Offbeat label, a subsidiary of Washington records.[7]

In 1963, Byrd did a European tour with Les McCann and Zoot Sims, among others.[8] Either in 1964 or 1965, Byrd appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival with Episcopal priest Malcolm Boyd, accompanying prayers from his book Are You Running With Me Jesus? with guitar.[9] In 1967 Byrd brought a lawsuit against Stan Getz and MGM, contending that he was unfairly paid for his contributions to the 1962 album Jazz Samba. The jury agreed with Byrd and awarded him half of all royalties from the album.[10]

His earliest trios included bassist Keter Betts and drummers Buddy Deppinschmidt and Bertel Knox. In the early 1960s Betts joined Ella Fitzgerald and Byrd's brother Gene H. (Joe) Byrd became bassist for the group. Joe Byrd played with his brother until Charlie Byrd's death in 1999 of cancer. Byrd's trios also included drummers Billy Reichenbach for over ten years, Wayne Phillips for several years and for the last 19 yearsChuck Redd.

In 1967, or more likely 1968, his quartet was on a state department tour in Asia, which included Katmandu, Nepal. Upon invitation by the pastor, that stop included him playing both Bach and a spiritual at the worship service of the (International) Protestant Congregation on Sunday morning.

In 1973 Byrd moved to Annapolis, Maryland, and in September of that year he recorded an interesting album with Cal Tjader titled Tambú, the only recording the two would make together.[11] That same year Byrd joined guitarists Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel and formed the Great Guitars group, which also included drummer Johnny Rae.[11][12] Byrd collaborated with Venezuelan pianist and composer Maestro Aldemaro Romero on the album Onda Nueva/The New Wave.

From 1980 through 1996, he released several of his arrangements to the jazz and classical guitar community through Guitarist's Forum ( including Charlie Byrd's Christmas Guitar Solos, Mozart: Seven Waltzes For Classical Guitar, and The Charlie Byrd Library featuring the music of George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. He also collaborated with the Annapolis Brass Quintet in the late 1980s, appearing with them in over 50 concerts across the United States and releasing two albums.

A jazz supper club in Georgetown, DC also bore his name, "Charlie's". When he died, he was "at home" in the King of France Tavern of the Maryland Inn, Annapolis.

Upon his death, a scholarship was endowed in his name at the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University.

Byrd played for several years at a jazz club in Silver Spring, Maryland, called The Showboat II which was owned and managed by his manager, Peter Lambros. He was also home-based at the King of France Tavernnightclub at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis from 1973 until his death in 1999. In 1992 the book "Jazz Cooks"—by Bob Young and Al Stankus—was published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, a compilation of recipes that include a few recipes from Byrd.[13] He also authored the 1973 publication Charlie Byrd's Melodic Method for Guitar.

Personal life[edit] Edit

Byrd was married to Rebecca Byrd, and has two daughters from previous marriages, Carol Rose of Charlotte, NC, and Charlotte Byrd of Crownsville, MD. He loved sailboating, and owned a twenty-six foot boat called "I'm Hip" that he sailed to various parts of the world. Charlie Byrd died of lung cancer on December 2, 1999 at his home in Annapolis, Maryland.[14]

Awards[edit] Edit

  • 1999 - Knighted by the government of Brazil as a Knight of the Rio Branco
  • 1997 - deemed a "Maryland Art Treasure" by the Community Arts Alliance of Maryland

Discography[edit] Edit

Title Recorded Remarks
First Flight 1957 Compilation from 'Jazz Recital' (tracks 1-10) and 'Blues For Night People' (tracks 11-17)
Jazz Recital 1957 February 4, 1957
Blues for Night People 1957 August 4, 1957; Same as 'Midnight Guitar' with slight difference in the 1st track
Midnight Guitar 1957 Same as 'Blues for Night People' with slight difference in the 1st track
Byrd's Word! 1958 Offbeat / Riverside Records
Byrd in the Wind 1959 Offbeat / Riverside
Mr. Guitar 1959 Offbeat / Riverside
The Guitar Artistry of Charlie Byrd 1960 Offbeat / Riverside
Charlie Byrd at the Village Vanguard 1961 Offbeat / Riverside
Blues Sonata 1961 Offbeat / Riverside
Jazz Samba 1962 Verve - with Stan Getz
Latin Impressions 1962 Riverside
Bossa Nova Pelos Passaros 1962 Riverside
Once More! Charlie Byrd's Bossa Nova 1963 Riverside
Guitar/Guitar 1963 Columbia - with Herb Ellis
Byrd at the Gate 1963 Riverside
Byrd Song 1964 Riverside
Brazilian Byrd 1965 Columbia
Travellin' Man 1965 Columbia
The Touch of Gold 1965 Columbia
Solo Flight 1965 Riverside
Byrdland 1966 Columbia CS 9392/CL 2592
Hollywood Byrd 1967 -
More Brazilian Byrd 1967 -
Christmas Carols for Solo Guitar 1967 -
Music for "Villa Lobos" 1967 -
Delicately 1968 -
Hit Trip 1968 -
The Great Byrd 1969 -
Byrd Man 1969
Charlie Byrd Plays the Greatest Hits of the 60's 1969 Columbia CS 9970
Let Go 1970 -
For All We Know 1971 -
The Stroke of Genius 1971
Crystal Silence 1973 -
The World of Charlie Byrd 1973 double album
The New Wave (La Onda Nueva) 1974 In collaboration with Venezuelan Aldemaro Romero. Label: Columbia Records
Byrd by the Sea 1974 live
Great Guitars 1975 live w/ Barney Kessel & Herb Ellis
Top Hat 1975 -
Great Guitars 2 1976 live w/ Barney Kessel & Herb Ellis
Charlie Byrd Swings Downtown 1976 live
Charlie Byrd 1977 Direct to Disc Recording
Bluebyrd 1979 -
Sugarloaf Suite 1980 recorded live at the Concord Jazz Festival, Concord CA, in August 1979
Great Guitars at the Winery 1980 -
Brazilville 1981 -
Brazilian Soul 1981–1983 with Laurindo Almeida
Latin Odyssey 1981–1983 with Laurindo Almeida
Charlie Byrd Christmas Album 1982 -
Isn't It Romantic 1984 -
Tango 1985 -
Byrd and Brass 1986 w/Annapolis Brass Quintet
It's a Wonderful World 1988 -
Christmas With Byrd and Brass 1989 w/Annapolis Brass Quintet
Great Guitars: Straight Tracks 1991 w/ Herb Ellis & Barney Kessel
Tambu 1992 -
Rise and Shine 1992 -
The Washington Guitar Quintet 1992 -
Music to Dine By 1993 -
Aquarelle 1993 -
I've Got the World on a String 1994 -
Moments Like This 1994 -
Jazz & Samba 1995 -
Du Hot Club De Concord 1995 -
Live At Music Room 1996 live
Return of the Great Guitars 1996 live w/ Herb Ellis & Mundell Lowe
Au Courant 1997 -
My Inspiration: Music of Brazil 1999 -
For Louis 2000 -
Charlie Byrd 2000 Label: Delta
Byrd in the Wind 2002 Riverside
Charlie Byrd Plays Jobim 2002 -
Bamba Samba Bossa Nova 2005 -
Aquarius 2005 -
Byrd at the Gate: Charlie Byrd Trio at the Village Gate 2005 Extended CD Release, live
Everybody's Doin' the Bossa Nova 2005 -
Great Guitars Concord Jazz 2005 label: Concord Jazz, live
Let Go 2005 -
Lodovico Roncalli Suites 2005 -
Music of the Brazilian Masters 2005 with Laurindo Almeida and Carlos Barbosa-Lima
World of Charlie Byrd 2005 -

As sideman[edit] Edit

With Buck Clayton and Tommy Gwaltney's Kansas City 9

  • Goin' to Kansas City (Riverside, 1960)

With Helen Merrill

  • The Artistry of Helen Merrill (Mainstream, 1965)

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