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The beat goes on: Joe Byrd jazz concerts will continue in 2013

Charlie Byrd tribute concert features masterful music by trio of Najar, Redd and Cecil

By Mary Johnson, For The Baltimore Sun

4:02 PM EST, December 6, 2012

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Good news for jazz aficionados and connoisseurs: Concert impresario Elana Byrd has announced that she will continue the Joe Byrd jazz concerts in 2013.

Joe and Elana Byrd had chosen the full 2012 slate of artists before his death March 7 in an auto accident near his Edgewater home. Elana Byrd decided to continue the planned season, bringing major jazz musicians to Annapolis.

Downtown Annapolis is in its 40th consecutive year as a showcase for jazz — a legacy of local guitarist Charlie Byrd, his brother, bassist Joe, and entrepreneur Paul Pearson, who in 1972 opened the King of France Tavern at the Maryland Inn, where jazz royalty was featured for nearly 30 years. After Charlie Byrd's death in 1999, Joe and Elana Byrd carried on the tradition, moving to the intimate back room at 49 West Cafe and to Loews Hotel's Powerhouse Conference Center from 2003 to 2011.

Jazz Jams, originated by Joe Byrd and led by John Starr after Byrd's retirement in October 2008, continue every first and third Wednesday at 49 West. Featured soloists perform on selected Sunday afternoons and evenings.

The 12th annual Tribute to Charlie Byrd concert Dec. 1 at O'Callaghan Annapolis Hotel drew a capacity audience at a new fourth-floor location.

The tribute featured jazz guitarist Nate Najar, percussionist Chuck Redd and Tommy Cecil on bass. Heavily influenced by Charlie Byrd, Najar is sometimes described as "channeling Charlie," having studied his music and techniques on the nylon string classical guitar. Redd performed for almost 20 years with the Charlie Byrd Trio at Maryland Inn, and Cecil, active in the Washington jazz scene since 1976, was a favorite of Byrd's, often subbing for Joe Byrd in Charlie's trio.

Najar, Cecil and Redd were superb, offering classic jazz with rare insight and elegance.

"In a trio, there are no extra instruments. It either works or it doesn't," Elana Byrd said. "In this trio, they are all three ensemble players — all are strong players, and they obviously love playing together."

Najar creates a sound that expresses what Charlie Byrd might be playing today, discovering new dimensions that seemingly transform the guitar into a piano or other instrument while at appropriate passages transitioning to a distinctive, Segovia-like, classic Spanish sound. What struck me as uniquely Najar was a whispering guitar that delivered the essence of a classic jazz tune in its purest form.

On bass, Cecil did his own soulful, masterful channeling of another musical legend, Joe Byrd. Cecil delivered contrapuntally and in solos, finding the essence in each song and at times caressing his bass as if it were his dance partner.

For this performance, Redd played only drums, not his usual drums and vibes combination, doing full justice to quiet, dreamy tunes with delicate brushing and using dynamic stickwork to build a frantic pace or evoke a primitive sound.

Outstanding in a magical evening of music-making was the opening "Taking a Chance on Love," in which Najar created a piano sound with his guitar, Redd propelled the light and breezy rhythm with his brushes and Cecil added soul with his bass.

A highlight of the evening came with the trio's interpretation of Django Reinhardt's "Nuages" ("Clouds"), a hypnotic tune of haunting simplicity and dreamy sadness.

Also noteworthy were salutes to Antonio Carlos Jobim in "Quiet Nights" and "The Girl from Ipanema" and the fantastic "Travelin' Man" closer.

The evening was capped by Elana Byrd's announcement that such fabulous concerts will continue in 2013 because "not many small towns can boast such a tradition as we can. Joe was inspired to do this and would want it to continue, so I'll be hosting some fabulous events in 2013."

December offerings include Gene Bertoncini in "Christmas Direct From NYC" at 49 West Cafe on Saturday, Dec. 8; "Stef and Sue's Christmas Show," featuring the Stef Scaggiari Trio with vocalist Sue Matthews, at O'Callaghan at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15; and pianist Robert Redd and Chuck Redd on vibes doing the "Redd Brothers' Christmas" show Sunday, Dec. 16, at 49 West. The "Starr's Jazz Jam" is also at 49 West on Dec. 19.

For reservations, call 410-269-0777 or email elanabyrd@comcast.net.