Don Byron: Music Wikipedia
On the jazz tip, I found swing era playing very triadic compared to the way that a saxophonist or trumpet player would approach playing a chord. The difficulties of even thinking harmonically on the instrument made people kind of thing in very structured ways and it was hard enough to play things like that. So what I was trying to do with my jazz clarinet playing was look at what [saxophonists] John Coltrane was doing, and Joe Henderson, and Gary Bartz, and try to translate that somehow technically. So I just worked on different kinds of things. I was really into [clarinetist] Eddie Palmieri, I was writing out Eddie Palmieri solos as an undergrad. I was studying Stravinsky's music, I was studying with [composer/arranger] George Russell a bit, studying with [saxophonist/clarinetist] Joe Allard a bit, just trying to make sense of all the things that I enjoyed hearing, the things that excited me.
GC: When we get into things like the Sugar Hill Gang, Herb Alpert, Earth Wind and Fire, that seems like that's going pretty far from what you're talking about, and in some ways you would think that in today's society that we have so much access to all different kinds of music, it wouldn't be considered weird that somebody would present concerts of all different kinds of things. And yet, don't you think that's kind of rare? Most musicians do what I would call "sticking to their genre," not really going outside of certain territories. You seem like you're not only willing to go outside of certain territories, but it doesn't seem like a gimmickyou genuinely know and care and have studied widely differing things. Do you see a connection between all of them, or is that just your nature? Why isn't everyone else doing that?
DB: Well everyone else has become a lot more like me in the past 10-15 years than when I first started out as a solo artists and I was completely weird. Now a lot of people do a lot of different things. I think when I started people just thought it was weird that I was playing the clarinet, that I was playing Klezmer music. I will say about Earth Wind and Fire that, as a member of the Third Stream department, we all knew all about Earth Wind and Fire. [Pianist] Ran Blake, even though he is what he is as a player, he loved Earth Wind and Fire. That was official Third Stream music. There was a group of things in the Third Stream that were really promoted as stuff that you should know about, amongst them was Greek music, Jewish music, Indian music...the stuff in the Third Stream was a collection of things that the people who taught there [New England Conservatory] were into. It was a kind of department where either people did a lot of things pretty good, or they did one thing that was neither jazz nor classical music very well.
So you combine that environment with the fact that you could take anybody who would take you as a student to be your teacher. So that allowed me to study composition and study my instrument. You could take a semester and use that to study chamber music with somebody. Because the Third Stream only had like three faculty members at certain times, they were open to you studying with different people. And you could split your four credits amongst more than one teacher even, so over that time I just managed to study a lot of different things with a lot of different people and I was just really doing the music that I was interested in in the scope of what was happening in the Third Stream. The Third Stream was not particularly Latin-friendly, but that's what I was doing so that was a part of it. I think a lot of my framework really comes from the Conservatory, where before I got there [composer/arranger] Gunther [Schuller] was the guy who introduced people to ragtime or made an orchestral take on country fiddle, and those kinds of things were all happening at the school before I got there.
So there was a kind of environment where people were exploring very specific kinds of things. There was a woman there who was a few years ahead of me in the school and she was putting on Bulgarian women's choir music, putting that together before any of that got famous. She was just studying that, she was doing it, and she was doing it with people who knew nothing about it. She was teaching them! She wanted it to happen, so she made it happen. And then there was a lot of activity around singers singing Indian music at the school. It was just a real interesting moment.
GC: In a way, you say about the instrument that you wanted to have a relationship with classical clarinet and jazz clarinet. Somebody might look at [trumpeter] Wynton Marsalis and see the same thing. What would you say to someone who might say "well that's just like Wynton Marsalis, that's what he did?"