"A Night in Tunisia"
Don Carlos Byas, one of the greatest tenor saxophonists in the history of jazz, landed at Kastup Airport, Copenhagen on September 10, 1946, tears filling his eyes, as Leo Mathisen's band stood in the pouring rain playing the St. Louis Blues to greet the Don Redman orchestra, the first to arrive from the USA after World War II.
Leo Mathisen was then playing at "Munchen" and the airport reception was just the beginning of Leo's wild and wonderful welcome that happy day his favourite tenor-sax man came to Copenhagen.
Timme Rosendrantz, Danish jazz-journalist, who organised the Redman tour in New York, was the discoverer of Don Byas whom he first heard playing with the Eddie Mallory band at the Savoy Ballroom on their opening night in 1937.
Don recalls his arrival in New York with Mallory to play at the famous Cotton Club, with the great Duke Ellington band alternating: "It was the greatest musical thrill of my life...we were accompanying Ethel Water who had just married Mallory in California...Ethel brought us to New York."
Tyree Glenn, trombonist, was also in the Mallory group and it is no suprise that they were both to make their very first discs with "Timme Rosendrantz and his Barrelhouse Barons" for Victor in 1938. This was also the first recording date for Rudy Williams, alto-sax, who was one of Don's favourite altos. Rex Stewart, Billy Kyle, Jo Jones, Walter Page were also on the date and helped make it a collector's item.
The brilliance of that first recording of Leo Mathisen's Wee bit of swing and Is this to be my souvenir (Don's arrangement and classic solo) was the the beginning of a long and exciting recording career for Don, who since distinguished the recordings ofAlbert Ammons, Harold Baker, Count Basie, Emmett Berry, Benny Carter, Cozy Cole, Bill Coleman, Roy Eldride, Dizzy Gillespie, Tyree Glenn, Clyde Hart, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Eddie Heywood, Johnny Hodges, Pete Johnson, Any Kirk. Hot Lips Page, Oscar Pettifrd, Jeach Teagarded, Joe Turner, Mary Lou William, Teddy Wilson, Trummy Toung, as well as countless recordins in France, Spain, Germany and Sweden.
With this album Byan added Denmark to his illustrious discography with sul-satisfying results.
Don Byan was understadably revered by musicians all over the world. Coleman Hawkings one said." "I couldn't afford to have Don in my band too long - he'd make me work too hard.
Back in 1949, Count Basie played the Salle Pleyel in Paris and backstage during the intermission, Basie turned to Don and said "Don, why don't you come home and rejoing my band? I'll pay you $400 a week...after three years, aren't you homesick yet?" Byas grinned and said: "No, man, I'm just sick of home..."
The year he left America, Don made over 40 discs, after having won two Esquire Awards successively. He turned his back on all of it. He was ready for new experiences. He found them...from Denmark to North Africa, he was swingin' through every country in Europe.
At St. Tropez Don opened the Tropicana in 1949 and refused engagements anywhere else for the summer months until 1961. He lived by the sea, seldom bothering to sleep after work hours, fishing and skin-diving...day and night...rain or shine. Here he became as famous as Brigitte Bardot, the film sex-pot who came nightly to hear him play...and with the natives, especially the old fishermen he earned the nickname of "Piad" whic is argot (sland) for the hermit crab that has no shell of its own, but takes over any empty shell it finds on the bottom of the sea. Don explains: "They called me that because I was always skin-diving, searching on the bottom of the sea for something to shoot at...I was more often on the bottom of the sea than on top...and the "piad" is only found on the bottom of the sea..."
When Don camed to Europe he was a frail and gangling youth. The more robust fellows were always teasing him and calling him "skinny" ...but time and weight-lifting changed all that. Together with long, lazy months on the Mediterranean, lifting weights, swimming and no strong drink, Don developed into a hardy and healthy chap with arms of steel and thereby set an excellent example for aspiring young jazz men.
As any musician will telly you, the moment work was over Don would whip out a protable chess or checker set, which he carried in his inside jacket pocket, sit down and play for hours with anyone who had the courage to challenge him. "I'm a champ, so watchout..." Don would say. Byas could never accept being less than the best...at anything he attempted.
His infallible musical ear made him adept at languages and within hours after arriving in Denmark, Don had composed a song. "Jeg elsker dig" which he sang at the top of his voice as the bus rolled through Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland...on to Paris.
Byas was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma on October 21, 1913, and attended Langston University in that State. His mother and father played four instruments between them and the father taught Don clarinet and violin, but drew the line when Byas decide to play jazz...on a saxophone!
He left home. In 1933 he was in Los Angeles playing with Lionel Hampton at Sebastian's Cotton Club and here he met and joined the Mallory group. Don never returned to the United States and died in Amsterdam on August 24, 1972.
And so this album spans a thirty year period in jazz, unsurpassed in consistency of high performance and dedication. The beauty of his tone, fluidity of expression, originality of ideas and musicianship qualified Don Byas, on this his thirtieth anniversary to air his opinions of the modern scene.
"To me a beautiful sound is the most important part of musical exploration...if the sound is not good...it is not music...I can make sound effects too, but I am more interested in communicating with my audience and saying something they can feel and understand...and I hope appreciate...the only things that swing are the simple things...when music becomes complicated it ceases to swing...listen to Baski, listen to the gospel singers...well, if it doesn't swing its not jazz!"
I'll Remember April (9:45), Lover Man (8:22), Anthropology (5:52), Lady Bird (8:26), Yesterdays (8:52), A Night In Tunisia (7:23)
Recorded At The Montmatre Jazzhus, Copenhagen 14 January 1963