Virtuoso Composer and Multi-Instrumentalist Don Byron ’84 Returns to NEC for Residency

Don Byron - Jazz 40 Celebration

Don Byron ’84 might be the rare musician who is equally known for his contributions to free jazz and klezmer, but at NEC, such artists are thankfully not so rare—for 50 years, NEC musicians have been encouraged to develop their unique musical voices by delving into wide-ranging traditions through NEC’s groundbreaking Contemporary Musical Arts, closely entwined with the innovations of the NEC Jazz department.

A Guggenheim Fellow, Grammy nominee, Pulitzer finalist, and graduate of NEC’s CMA program, Byron’s musical perspective will be heard through the weekend with a series of concerts, master classes, and artist talks, the culmination of a week-long residency with NEC students.

Don Byron Cecil McBee Billy Hart - Jazz40

Armed with impeccable musicianship across genres, Byron drew inspiration from his early exposure to calypso, symphony music, salsa, and jazz. He found acclaim in the New York avant-garde and free jazz scene in the 1980s and 90s, and gave influential performances in the klezmer resurgence of the same era, including with NEC’s acclaimed Klezmer Conservatory Band. His recordings span a wide range of composers, from Ornette Coleman and Chopin to Leonard Bernstein and Roy Orbison, and his work has addressed racism and other social themes.

This week, as part of his residency, Byron offered an artist talk for NEC students, “Having a Diverse Musical Career While Being Black”; will coach three student ensembles in a master class; and cap off the week on Thursday, December 8 with the NEC Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Ken Schaphorst ’84 MM, in “Crossing the Boundaries.” This exciting concert highlights music inspired by diverse global and improvisational traditions, and includes a tribute to Don’s teacher George Russell, a pioneering musical theorist, composer, and esteemed member of NEC faculty. The program features arrangements and compositions by Randy Weston and Melba Liston, Duke Ellington, Sam Rivers, Gerald Levinson, Ran Blake and others. Byron will be featured in an improvisation, as well as in pieces by Russell and Morton Gould.

Read more: Jon Garelick’s Boston Globe profile of Byron and this concert

Reserve free tickets: NEC Jazz Orchestra + Ken Schaphorst: Crossing the Boundaries with Special Guest Don Byron '84

Photos by Andrew Hurlbut of Don Byron performing in 2009 for NEC’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Jazz department, with NEC Jazz faculty members Cecil McBee, double bass, and Billy Hart, drums, with pianist Malcolm G. Campbell ’11 MM (Harvard-NEC).

Around the first month or two [at NEC], I played in a gamelan. There was Indian music, there was Brazilian music, a lot of Eastern European music. There was a woman there doing Bulgarian women's choral music. There was [late NEC professor] Joe Maneri helping people with Greek music…Everything I've done is very Third Stream.
Don Byron '84