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For Don Byron, the Music Has to Feel Right


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Near the close of a concert a few years back in Seattle, Don Byron asked the intimate crowd what they wanted to hear next.

“Whatever you feel like!" came the reply from one audience member.

“It's gonna be that no matter what," shot back Byron.

That intangible thing called “feel" may be the only element that unifies Byron's otherwise staggeringly disparate body of work. Over the past two decades, he's tackled klezmer, funk, classical and all manner of jazz music with a mixture of profound respect for his sources and a playfully transformative approach that enlivens the material in surprising ways.

“Compositional structure is really important to me," Byron explained over the phone from his New York home, “or we could be doing anybody's music and just playing whatever we want."

Not even Byron's instrument of choice stays predictable. For his latest, “Do the Boomerang: The Music of Junior Walker," the clarinetist becomes primarily a tenor saxophonist, sticking with the late Motown funk maestro's own axe for the bulk of the CD.

“It doesn't mean I'm not a clarinet player anymore," insisted Byron, who brings his Walker show to the Painted Bride tomorrow. “For me, it's really interesting working with a sound that's a little more idiomatic for the music that I'm doing."

Junior Walker and the All-Stars, led by Autry “Junior Walker" De Walt Jr., issued a string of hits, both vocal and instrumental, during the mid-to-late '60s, most famously the anthemic 1965 shout-along “Shotgun."


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