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Byrd, Charlie Lee (16th September 1925-30th November 1999)

He was a jazz and classical guitarist born in Suffolk, Virginia and who grew up in Chuckatuck, Virginia. His father was a mandolin player and his brother, Joe, was also a musician that he would work with extensively during his career. When he was ten his father taught him how to play the acoustic steel guitar, throughout his teens he would play plectrum guitar in local groups, and when he was seventeen he became a member of the school orchestra after he had entered Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

He was only there for months when he received the call-up for the US Army during WWII and while being stationed in Paris he saw combat, but also continued performing in an Army Special Services band. During his time in Paris he saw Django Reinhardt play and from then on he would become one of his influences in his post-war career. When he finished his service, and wanting to continue with his music career, he went to New York to attend the Hartnett National Music School and concentrate on jazz theory and composition.

After changing his usual style of instrument to a classical guitar he moved to Washington D.C. and in 1954 he went to Europe where he studied under Andres Segovia.   Returning home to the US he teamed up with the bassist, Keeter Betts, and together they would play gigs before being snapped up by the Woody Herman Band with whom they would make a short visit to Europe on a “goodwill” tour.

He toured South America in 1961 and when he came back he met up with Stan Getz and introduced him to some of the bossa nova recordings by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto he had brought back. They decided to record these songs themselves and the resultant Jazz Samba appeared in the Billboard pop album chart.

Throughout his career he has performed with artists including Cal Tjader, Joe Marsala, Freddie Slack, Laurindo Almeida , Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and many others as well as being in the trio known as The Great Guitars. He was the owner of two jazz clubs in Maryland, had recipes appear in the book Jazz Cooks, wrote Charlie Byrd’s Melodic Method for Guitar and owned a boat called “I’m Hip”.   He was made a Knight of the Rio Branco by the government of Brazil and the Community Arts Alliance of Maryland named him a “Maryland Art Treasure”. He died at one of his clubs in 1999 aged 74 suffering from lung cancer.

Washington Guitar Quintet & Charlie Byrd recordings
Los Angeles Aquarelle Suite (Laurindo Almeida)
Concord Concerto CD-42016 (CD: Aquarelle)

Here he is performing Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave” with his trio…