Don Byas: Cherokee




Don Byas (tenor sax)


Savoy Jam Party (Savoy SV 268)

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Don Byas (tenor sax),

Teddy Brannon (piano), Frank Skeete (bass), Fred Radcliffe (drums)


Composed by Ray Noble


Recorded: New York, May 17, 1945


Rating: 88/100 (learn more)

A veteran arranger I know used to refer to Don Byas as "The Stone Age Coltrane." Byas was an important figure during the time of jazz's transition from swing to bop. Like all soloists at the time, he was a product of big bands, notably those of Lionel Hampton, Benny Carter, and Count Basie, and was also a member, with Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Pettiford, of the first bop group to appear on 52nd Street.

Byas's style in 1945 was an unusual combination of swing and bop elements. He employed a big, warm sound with a deep vibrato la Hawkins and Webster, and his rhythmic placement was mostly on the beat as per common Swing Era practice. His harmonic approach was quite a bit more advanced, though he was basically, like Hawkins, a vertical player. His ace in the hole was his dazzling technical command, which let him take a back seat to no one at handling fast tempos.

This performance is shaped by the wide disparity in harmonic and technical command between Byas and the workmanlike rhythm section. The blazing tempo forces the bassist to play in 2 throughout while the others hang on for dear life as Byas eats up the changes. Though his solo eventually takes on the character of a technical etude, it is still a dazzling virtuoso display. A couple of choruses even include some chromatic II-V substitutions in the first four bars, as if "Cherokee" didn't already have enough chord changes, though these passages were obviously part of a set routine rather than a spur-of-the-moment inspiration.

Reviewer: Kenny Berger

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