The Troy Street Observer

June 15, 1922: Jaki Byard Born in Worcester, Mass.

Photo of Jaki Byard
Jaki Byard

It was in 1964 that Nat Hentoff said that Jaki Byard was “a pervasive influence on nearly every young Boston musician who was interested in discovering new jazz routes.” Among them were pianist Dick Twardzik, trumpeter and composer Don Ellis, and saxophonist and composer Sam Rivers. But we only have room for one route-seeker per blog post, and this time it’s Herb Pomeroy.

Byard and Pomeroy were part of the modern jazz contingent resident at the Hi-Hat and Lynn’s Melody Lounge, and they played together often. They were both part of Charlie Mariano’s 1953 Imperial sessions, and Jaki’s classic, “Diane’s Melody,” debuted on one of those Imperial 10-inch LPs.

Herb Pomeroy was not shy about giving the inventive Jaki Byard his share of the credit for the big band’s success. Byard arranged much of the band’s “Living History of Jazz” concert, a narrated history of jazz stretching from African roots to the freshest of Pomeroy’s charts. It was the eclectic Byard who wove the bits of Joplin, Ellington, Bix, Bird, and the rest into a cohesive whole. Somebody, somewhere, must have a tape of this concert. I would love to hear it.

Byard’s second contribution was even greater than his arranging. Byard put Pomeroy on the fast track to Ellington. Pomeroy’s Ellington course at Berklee was one of his landmark contributions to the curriculum there, and it was Jaki who opened his eyes to the full Ellington panorama. Pomeroy’s band, when Byard was a member, owed much to Basie and Woody, and not so much to Duke. Jaki helped alter its course. Herb would arrive at Ellington eventually, but Byard shortened the journey considerably. Exhibit A: “Aluminum Baby,” the Byard composition bursting with Ellington ideas that became the Pomeroy band’s most requested tune.

Byard, in the liner notes of his Out Front LP, said of his time in the Pomeroy band: “That’s when I got my saxophone thing really going further…playing in the sax section. Serge Chaloff was part of it. Bad, man! That band was the most fiery one of all.”

Byard left the Pomeroy band in September 1957, but he cast a long shadow. “Aluminum Baby” was a lasting part of Pomeroy’s life. He recorded it again in 2003, with his trio, 46 years after the big band recording made when Jaki was on the band. And that, my friends, is a pervasive influence.

I can’t get enough of this 2012 video of Ken Schaphorst and the NEC Jazz Orchestra with Fred Hersch on piano playing “Aluminum Baby.” A great tune for a great musician on his day.

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