Bassist Joe Byrd says farewell in sold-out concert

The Baltimore Sun

The Joe Byrd Trio and Quartet farewell concerts at Loews Annapolis Powerhouse last weekend were sold out, filled with fans who witnessed the end of an era of authentic, sophisticated American jazz that has been at home in Annapolis the past 40 years.

Joe Byrd has been playing bass for 50 years - 40 years with his world-class guitarist brother Charlie Byrd. After Charlie's death in 1999, Joe maintained his style of jazz with administrative support from Elana, his wife of 31 years. Elana Byrd, a lawyer who also acts as her husband's promoter and agent, serves as concert emcee. In recent years, the couple has held regular concerts in venues such as 49 West Cafe and Loews Powerhouse, helping to keep jazz alive in Annapolis.

On Friday night at the Trio concert (the Quartet played Saturday), Elana Byrd announced Joe was retiring because "at age 75 he was tired of hauling the bass and amps and stool around." Elana Byrd is not retiring, she added, and said she will continue to bring quality jazz to the area.

Before the show, Joe Byrd said, "I guess I feel that 50 plus years is long enough. I have enjoyed it all, but there comes a point when pulling those strings is physically challenging. That bass is getting heavier every day."

Byrd said the bass weighs about 30 pounds.

"It's not like playing piano, clarinet or guitar, which you can do into your 80s," Byrd said. "And besides on nights when I want to stay home, now I can do it."

Joining Byrd in the trio were Steve Abshire on guitar and Chuck Redd on vibes. Starting with the blues, Byrd explained that W. C. Handy was a classically trained musician who wrote the trio's first classic, "St. Louis Blues," in 1914. The trio then played "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" The blues set was followed by jazz classics like "I'm Confessin' " and Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia."

In each tune, Redd's smooth vibes interpretations were in sync with the sensitive guitar of Abshire, who joined Byrd in improvisational conversations that spun their own unique musical tapestry.

In the first set, the trio also performed "Fool's Paradise" and "Ask Me Nice," with Byrd providing vocals in his warm, relaxed rhythmic style reminiscent of 40s composer-singer Carmichael.Byrd's trio also offered up a little-known gem, "Nuages" ("Clouds"), a beautiful ballad written in about 1935 by Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, who recorded in Europe during World War II.

After intermission the trio offered Duke Ellington classics before turning to bossa nova tunes - an idiom popularized in the United States by Charlie Byrd. First was "Morning of Carnival," followed by a transcendent version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave," the melody moving from Redd's soulful vibes to a duet between Byrd and Abshire carrying the melody into a new realm and growing faster, requiring sure fingers to fly at virtuoso speed to reach a mystical symbiosis. At the end, the audience uttered almost in unison a primal "Oh," a kind of shared spontaneous musical conversation between world-class musicians and appreciative audience.

The evening ended with a second standing ovation and an encore of Jobim's "The Girl From Ipanema" that was lovingly performed and well-received.

There will be a "Tribute to Charlie Byrd" concert at the Powerhouse on Nov. 21 and at An die Musik in Baltimore on Nov. 22. Reservations through Elana Byrd, 410-269-0777.

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