Don Byas, versatile and ubiquitous tenor player of the 1940s

Don Byas
Mon, 1912-10-21

On this date in 1912, Don Byas was born in Oklahoma. He was an African American tenor jazz saxophonist.

Byas began playing music as an alto saxophonist and in 1933 became a tenor player. Two years later, he moved to California and began playing with Lionel Hampton and Buck Clayton on the dance band circuit. In 1937, he moved to New York, working with the likes of Andy Kirk and Benny Carter, and within two years replacing Lester Young as lead tenor with the Count Basie band. Byas is well known for his solo Byas left Basie in 1943, working with smaller groups and recording creatively for many independent labels and companies. Byas was one of the most versatile and omnipresent musicians on the New York scene in the 1940s. It was he and Dizzy Gillespie who formed the well-known and groundbreaking Onyx Club band in 1944. Byas’ love of the tenor and his ability to convey chromatic harmony on the tenor made him one of the few swing-era soloists who were welcomed into the world of Be-bop.

He spent a number of years in Europe, returning briefly in 1970. Don Wesley Byas died on August 24, 1972.

All That Jazz: The Illustrated Story of Jazz Music
General Editor: Ronald Atkins
Copyright 1996, Carlton Books Limited
ISBN 0-76519-953-X

To Become a Musician or Singer

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Byas, Don Wesley