Charlie Byrd

Tasteful, low-key, and ingratiatingly melodic, Charlie Byrd had two notable accomplishments to his credit -- applying acoustic classical guitar techniques to jazz and popular music and helping to introduce Brazilian music to mass North American audiences. Born into a musical family, Byrd experienced his first brush with greatness while a teenager in France during World War II, playing with his idol Django Reinhardt. After some postwar gigs with Sol Yaged, Joe Marsala and Freddie Slack, Byrd temporarily abandoned jazz to study classical guitar with Sophocles Papas in 1950 and Andrés Segovia in 1954. However he re-emerged later in the decade gigging around the Washington D.C. area in jazz settings, often splitting his sets into distinct jazz and classical segments. He started recording for Savoy as a leader in 1957, and also recorded with the Woody Herman Band in 1958-59. A tour of South America under the aegis of the U.S. State Department in 1961, proved to be a revelation, for it was in Brazil that Byrd discovered the emerging bossa nova movement. Once back in D.C., he played some bossa nova tapes to Stan Getz, who then convinced Verve's Creed Taylor to record an album of Brazilian music with himself and Byrd. That album, Jazz Samba, became a pop hit in 1962 on the strength of the single "Desafinado" and launched the bossa nova wave in North America. Thanks to the bossa nova, several albums for Riverside followed, including the defining Bossa Nova Pelos Passaros, and he was able to land a major contract with Columbia, though the records from that association often consisted of watered-down easy listening pop. In 1973, he formed the group Great Guitars with Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel and also that year, wrote an instruction manual for the guitar that has become widely used. From 1974 onward, Byrd recorded for the Concord Jazz label in a variety of settings, including sessions with Laurindo Almeida and Bud Shank. He died December 2, 1999 after a long bout with cancer.
Richard S. Ginell, Rovi