Don Byas: Laura




Don Byas (tenor sax)


Jazz in Paris: Laura (Emarcy 36714)

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Don Byas (tenor sax),

Art Simmons (piano), Joe Benjamin (bass), Bill Clarke (drums)


Composed by David Raksin & Johnny Mercer


Recorded: Paris, France, March 17, 1952


Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Don Byas's decision to remain permanently in Europe in 1946 at the height of his popularity in the U.S. was a curious one. While he became nearly as revered among expatriate American jazzmen as Sidney Bechet (especially in France), he was gradually forgotten in his native land. Considered by many a key bridge between swing and bop, Byas had a style on tenor that he himself said was influenced by Coleman Hawkins's sound, Lester Young's ideas, and Art Tatum's harmonic sophistication.

Byas was a truly masterful ballad player, and was perhaps best known in that regard for his interpretations of the 1944 movie theme "Laura." He had a minor hit with it before he left the States, and recorded it in Paris in 1948 and again in 1952, the latter version as heard here. Two interconnected foghorn-like held notes initiate Byas's silky smooth treatment of the romantic melody. Byas early on exhibits a bit of Ben Webster's breathiness in tandem with a broader and harder tonal thrust more reminiscent of Hawkins. When Byas embarks on his solo, the Hawkins influence becomes more dominant, but Byas's lush harmonic embellishments and dramatically swelling increases in dynamics are still more readily identifiable as his alone. Byas playing "Laura" is of a kind with Hawkins performing "Body and Soul" or Young articulating "Ghost of a Chance." In a word, definitive, right down to Byas's sweetly succinct coda.

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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