Back in the early 1980s, I'd head down to Barry Harris's Jazz Cultural Theater on New York's Eighth Avenue in the 20s to hear Jaki Byard & the Apollo Stompers. As I recall, you never knew who you'd see in the band. There often were guys in the trumpet section who played Broadway shows. But the biggest surprise of all was hearing Byard play the piano. There was a lot of abstraction in his attack, but there always was a traditional jazz core. Byard was an exceptional technician, a rambunctiously creative player and a mischief-maker on the keyboards. In some ways, his artistry was a fascinating mash of Theloious Monk, Charles Mingus and Erroll Garner. All were widely admired players, but all brought a vivid sense of humor to the fore.
Yesterday, director Raymond De Felitta passed along a link to Anything for Jazz, a short 1980 documentary on Byard based on film that director Dan Algrant gathered in the late 1970s. There are even two clips of Bill Evans talking about Byard. Evans looks very ill, so I suspect the interview was conducted in late 1970 or early '80. A reminder of what brilliant jazz artists sacrificed for the music and the suffering many black artists endured from a lack of widespread recognition and praise. A good way to end the week.
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