Charlie Byrd has been named the first Maryland Art Treasure by the Community Arts Alliance of Maryland.
This is swell because the honor will take the Annapolis jazz guitarist on a 15-month statewide concert tour called "Welcome, Maryland Art Treasure." The performances will give even more people an opportunity to hear the unique artistry of Charlie Byrd and his wide repertoire.
Over the years, Charlie Byrd has had his share of breaks good and bad. In retrospect, it all evens out to a remarkably satisfying career which has managed to combine breakthrough achievements in jazz with a serious interest in classical guitar. And because Annapolis has been Charlie Byrd's home base ever since his jazz club in Washington went under, Maryland's capital has benefited from the fruits of his creativeness.
One of the milestones of Charlie Byrd's career was his role in introducing bossa nova to audiences in the United States.
He had been intrigued by Latin American rhythms since his early days on the New York City jazz scene. That interest blossomed into something of an obsession after pianist Dave Brubeck could not make a U.S.-government sponsored South American tour and Charlie Byrd went instead, literally soaking up new rhythmic concepts and influences.
Fortunately, we live in an age where much of that exciting experimentation is documented in records, including the famous Charlie Byrd-Stan Getz joint sessions.
Locally, Charlie Byrd was one of the ingredients which turned the Maryland Inn in Annapolis, a dump of an aging hotel in the 1960s, back into an elegant hostelry and a symbol of downtown historic preservation. Ever since his first performance at the inn in May 1972, Charlie Byrd has regularly returned to the hotel's jazz room, one of the best in the nation.
In June, when the first Annapolis jazz festival was held at St. John's College, it was only natural that Charlie Byrd was one of its star performers, along with Baltimore's Ethel Ennis, another veteran of Maryland Inn fame.
All in all, Charlie Byrd has produced more than 80 recordings -- including his unforgettable albums with the now-defunct Annapolis Brass Quintet.
Charlie Byrd is, indeed, a Maryland Art Treasure.