Jaki Byard was one of jazz’s most idiosyncratic talents. A pianist capable of playing in almost any jazz style as well as a highly original creative voice, he contributed to epoch-making recordings with some of the most important names in Sixties jazz, such as Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and left a powerful legacy of his own work as a band leader and as an inspirational teacher.
His playing was rich, masterful and above all, versatile, covering everything from stride and ragtime to bebop and free jazz. Pianist, saxophonist, composer, arranger, and teacher Jaki Byard had a career that followed the music – along the way he became a master of every style of jazz.
Byard became an educator, teaching at Harvard, the Hart School of Music, and New England Conservatory, to name a few. Many well-known musicians studied with Byard during his tenure at NEC, including Tony Williams and Lifetime keyboardist Alan Pasqua. Jaki Byard left behind a musical legacy few musicians can aspire to achieve. He was a master at all forms of jazz and stood as a symbol for education, never hesitating to offer his services or knowledge to the young and aspiring mind.
Jaki’s career that spanned over six decades was still going strong. He was still recording and still arranging, composing and teaching. In February of 1999, he was invited to conduct a seminar and play at the Berkley School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He never did make it to that engagement. However you define success, for Jaki Byard, being able to play his music for the joy, the creativity, the fun and the teaching of it was all that really mattered to him.
Jaki Byard died (tragically) on February 11, 1999. He was 76 years young and still had much to offer the music and artistic community.