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Byrd's legacy of jazz continues to soar in Annapolis

Jazz (Music Genre)ConcertsMusicDining and DrinkingHotel and Accommodation Industry

The beat goes on in 2014, at least when it comes to jazz in Annapolis provided by a program nurtured by Joe Byrd and, before that, by his brother, Charlie Byrd. A tradition set by those two will again draw major talent to Annapolis this year for a series of jazz concerts at 49 West Cafe and at O'Callaghan's Hotel.

The area's emergence as a jazz hotbed began in 1972, when Charlie Byrd, a guitarist, and Joe Byrd, a bassist, joined with entrepreneur Paul Pearson to produce jazz concerts at the King of France Tavern at the Maryland Inn.

For nearly 30 years until his death in 1999, Charlie Byrd played at the inn. His legacy was carried on by Joe and his wife, Elana Byrd.

Joe and Elana brought jazz royalty to Annapolis and moved to the intimate back room at 49 West Cafe and then to Loews Hotel's Powerhouse Conference Center from 2003 to 2011. Later, Joe originated jazz jams at 49 West and also featured soloists on selected Sunday afternoons and evenings — a series continued by John Starr after Joe's retirement in 2008.

After Joe Byrd died in March 2012 in an auto accident, his widow fulfilled the season they had planned together.

Recently she commented, "We have been doing this for over 40 years, and it did not occur to me to stop when there is a vital audience hungry for jazz. And then there are the musicians who are my long-term friends; they love to play here for such attentive audiences."

And so the music plays on. On the first and third Wednesdays each month is the series Joe called his favorite "jazz variety show" — the jazz jams at 49 West. On Saturday the venue hosts "intimate jazz," and on Sunday it's "suppers and jazz."

The 2014 series has already drawn acclaim. Earlier this month, an all-star tribute to the late pianist Dick Morgan was organized by Elana Byrd and bassist Dave Einhorn, and played to a sold-out audience. On Valentine's Day, pianist Stef Scaggiari and vocalist Sue Matthews, with Steve Abshire on guitar, gave a concert of love songs at O'Callaghan's that was also sold out.

The Wednesday jazz jam sessions now warrant advance reservations to ensure seating. The regular house band is conducted by Starr on bass, flute and wind synthesizer; with Tom Korth on grand piano, Bill McHenry on drums and Dick Glass on trumpet and a regular lineup of singers and instrumentalists — including Pat Fagen, Marjorie Emmer, Glenn Angus, Tom Stemmy and others.

March concerts include an intimate jazz session March 8 at 49 West with Gene Bertoncini on solo classical guitar. Bertoncini played for more than 30 years as part of the Byrd jazz series, and he says he considers Annapolis his second home.

The Larry Scott Trio will perform at a Sunday supper and jazz session March 16. Scott played for years with the U.S. Navy Band and surrounds himself with talent from military bands. Sunday shows start at 7 p.m., and you get two hours of jazz for the $20 music cover.

On March 22, jazz at O'Callaghan's features Joshua Breakstone of New York, who plays bebop guitar. He'll be joined by bassist Victor Dvoskin.

And on April 26, a concert at O'Callaghan's Hotel brings a Brazilian jazz session — Richard Miller will joined by Brazilian musicians to present a Saturday program of "choro," the original name for jazz/folk rhythms of Brazil that evolved into samba.

Every month, Elana Byrd tries to present different players and styles of jazz, and produces a monthly newsletter to keep fans informed of artists, dates and times. It's available by emailing elanabyrd@comcast.net.

Byrd Hall at Peabody

The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University announced this week that Joe Byrd will be honored with the renaming of Peabody's East Hall as Joe Byrd Hall at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28.

The Peabody Jazz Ensemble, led by bassist and Peabody professor Michael Formanek, will perform a one-hour concert featuring Brazilian music by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Clare Fischer.

Byrd graduated from the Peabody in 1962. In a performing career that spanned more than four decades, he played at the White House for presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter, and traveled to more than 100 countries as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. State Department.

He explored the world of jazz with luminaries including his eldest brother, as well as saxophonists Stan Getz and Coleman Hawkins, pianists Teddy Wilson and Mose Allison, singer Jimmy Witherspoon and guitarist Herb Ellis.

The concert will make note of a gift made to the institute and also the establishment of the Joe Byrd Scholarahip in Jazz Studies.

"Joe was so grateful for the education he received at Peabody," said his widow. "He always felt lucky to have such a long career doing what he loved."

Tickets to the concert are available by calling the Peabody box office at 410-234-4800.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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