Donald Byron (born November 8, 1958) is an American composer and multi-instrumentalist. He primarily plays clarinet, but has also used bass clarinet and saxophones.
Though rooted in jazz, Byron's music is stylistically eclectic. He has worked in many different musical genres, ranging from klezmer music and German lieder, to Raymond Scott's "cartoon-jazz," hard rock/metal, and rap. Most of Byron's albums have been conceptual, devoted to works of a particular musician and/or style of music.
Byron was born in The Bronx, in New York City. Both parents were musicians: his mother was a pianist and his father played bass in calypso bands. As well as listening to jazz recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and others, he was exposed to other styles through trips to the ballet and symphony concerts.
He studied clarinet with Joe Allard and studied music at the New England Conservatory in Boston with George Russell. While in Boston, Byron performed and recorded with the Klezmer Conservatory Band, founded by NEC faculty member Hankus Netsky.
Byron is a gifted performer on clarinet, bass clarinet, and saxophone, but on many of his albums he subordinates his own playing to the exploration of a particular style. Byron is representative of a new generation of conservatory-trained jazz musicians who explore and record in a rich array of styles; his first album, Tuskegee Experiments, is a stew of classical avant garde and jazz improvisation, while albums such as Ivey Divey represent a straight-ahead exploration of the traditional jazz 'tune'.
Byron is a practicing jazz historian, and some of his albums have been recreations (in spirit) of forgotten moments in the history of popular music. Examples are Plays the Music of Mickey Katz and Bug Music. Byron has been nominated for a Grammy Award for his bass clarinet solo on "I Want to Be Happy" from Ivey-Divey.
Byron has worked as a professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver (2015), The University at Albany (2005-2009) and MIT (2007-2008), teaching composition, improvisation, music history, clarinet, and saxophone.
Byron is a member of the Black Rock Coalition. He has recorded with Allen Toussaint, Marc Ribot, Vernon Reid, Bill Frisell, Joe Henry, and others.
Byron was a judge for the 2nd annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.
In 2001, Byron performed "Bli Blip" for the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot Indigo, a tribute to Duke Ellington, which raised money for various charities devoted to increasing AIDS awareness and fighting the disease.
Byron was named a 2007 USA Prudential Fellow and awarded a US$50,000 grant by United States Artists, a public charity that supports and promotes the work of American artists. He also won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007.
Byron won the Rome Prize Fellowship awarded by the American Academy in Rome in 2009, and his Seven Etudes for solo piano, commissioned by pianist Lisa Moore, made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Musical Composition in 2009.
Byron plays a mouthpiece by Fred Rast.
- Tuskegee Experiments (Nonesuch, 1992)
- Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz (Nonesuch, 1993)
- Music for Six Musicians (Nonesuch, 1995)
- Don Byron Quintet: No-Vibe Zone: Live at the Knitting Factory (Knitting Factory Works, 1996)
- Bug Music (Nonesuch, 1996)
- Don Byron & Existential Dred: Nu Blaxploitation (Blue Note, 1998)
- Romance with the Unseen (Blue Note, 1999)
- A Fine Line: Arias and Lieder (Blue Note, 2000)
- You Are #6: More Music for Six Musicians (Blue Note, 2001)
- Ivey-Divey (Blue Note, 2004)
- Do the Boomerang - The Music of Junior Walker" (Blue Note, 2006)
- Love, Peace, and Soul (Savoy, 2011)
- String Quartet No. 2; Four Thoughts on Marvin Gaye, III, ETHEL: Light (Cantaloupe, 2006)
- Bang on a Can All Stars & Don Byron: A Ballad for Many (Cantaloupe, 2006)
- Lisa Moore: Seven (Cantaloupe, 2009)
- String Quartet No. 2; Four Thoughts on Marvin Gaye, I-IV, ETHEL: Heavy (Innova, 2012)
- Hamiet Bluiett: The Clarinet Family (Black Saint, 1987)
- Craig Harris: Shelter (JMT, 1987)
- Craig Harris Tailgater's Tales: Blackout in the Square Root of Soul (JMT, 1988)
- Living Colour: Time's Up (Epic, 1990)
- Mandy Patinkin: Dress Casual (CBS, 1990)
- Ralph Peterson: Presents The Fo'tet (Somethin' Else/Blue Note, 1990)
- Marc Ribot: Rootless Cosmopolitans (Antilles, 1990)
- Third Person (Tom Cora and Samm Bennett): The Bends (Knitting Factory Works, 1990)
- Reggie Workman: Images (Music & Arts, 1990)
- Gerry Hemingway Quintet: Special Detail (hatArt, 1991)
- Alan Lowe: At the Point of Impact (Fairhaven, 1991)
- David Murray: David Murray Big Band conducted by Lawrence "Butch" Morris (DIW/Columbia, 1991)
- Bobby Previte: Weather Clear, Track Fast (Enja, 1991)
- Steve Coleman: Drop Kick (Novus, 1992)
- Geduldig und Thimann: A Haymish Groove (Extraplatte, 1992)
- Hoppy Kamiyama: Welcome to Forbidden Paradise (Toshiba-EMI, 1992)
- Ralph Peterson: Ornettology (Somethin' Else/Blue Note, 1992)
- Hal Willner (producer): Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus (Columbia, 1992)
- Uri Caine: Sphere Music (JMT, 1993)
- Anthony Braxton: 4 (Ensemble) Compositions 1992 (Black Saint, 1993)
- Bill Frisell: Have a Little Faith (Elektra Nonesuch, 1993)
- David Murray: South of the Border (DIW/Columbia, 1993)
- Bobby Previte's Weather Clear, Track Fast: Hue and Cry (Enja, 1993)
- Reggie Workman: Altered Spaces (Leo, 1993)
- Cassandra Wilson: Blue Light 'til Dawn (Blue Note, 1993)
- Marilyn Crispell: Stellar Pulsations (Leo, 1994)
- Bill Frisell: This Land (Nonesuch, 1994)
- Leroy Jenkins: Themes & Improvisations on the Blues (CRI, 1994)
- Uri Caine: Toys (JMT, 1995)
- Marilyn Crispell: Live in San Francisco (Music&Arts, 1995)
- Jerome Harris: Hidden in Plain View (New World/Countercurrents, 1995)
- The Seedy Arkhestra (Chris Dowd): Puzzle (Profile, 1996)
- Douglas Ewart & Inventions Clarinet Choir: Angles of Entrance (Aarawak, 1996)
- Kansas City Band: Kansas City Soundtrack (Verve, 1996)
- Tom Pierson: Planet of Tears (Auteur, 1996; originally 1990?)
- President's Breakfast: Bar-B-Q Dali (Disc Lexia, 1996)
- Vernon Reid & Masque: Mistaken Identity (Sony, 1996)
- Suzanne Vega: Nine Objects of Desire (A&M, 1996)
- Uri Caine/Gustav Mahler: Primal Light / Urlicht (Winter & Winter, 1997)
- Kansas City Band: K. C. After Dark (Verve, 1997)
- Titilayo: Beware the Short Hair Girl (Blue Pantry, 1997)
- D. D. Jackson: Paired Down, Vol. 2 (Just In Time, 1998)
- Hector Martignon: The Foreign Affair (Candid, 1998)
- Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra (NOJO): You Are Here (Auracle, 1998)
- Daniel Barenboim and Guests: A Tribute to Ellington (Teldec, 1999)
- Uri Caine: The Sidewalks of New York: Tin Pan Alley (Winter & Winter, 1999)
- Bill Frisell: The Sweetest Punch: The New Songs of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach Arranged by Bill Frisell (Decca, 1999)
- Uri Caine: The Goldberg Variations (Winter & Winter, 2000)
- Michael Occhipinti: Creation Dream - The Songs of Bruce Cockburn (True North, 2000)
- Lalo Schifrin: Esperanto (Act, 2000)
- Ralph Alessi: This Against That (RKM Music, 2002)
- Edsel Gomez: Cubist Music (Tba, 2002)
- Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra (NOJO): Highwire (True North, 2002)
- Uri Caine: Gustav Mahler: Dark Flame (Winter & Winter, 2003)
- Joe Henry: Fuse (Anti-, 2003)
- Craig Harris: Souls Within the Veil (Aquastra Music, 2005)
- Allen Toussaint; The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch, 2009)