Charlie Lee Byrd (September 16, 1925 – December 2, 1999) was an American jazz guitarist. Byrd was best known for his association with Brazilian music, especially bossa nova. In 1962, he collaborated with Stan Getz on the album Jazz Samba, a recording which brought bossa nova into the mainstream of North American music.

Charlie Byrd
Charlie Byrd performing with his trio in July 1997
Charlie Byrd performing with his trio in July 1997
Background information
Birth nameCharlie Lee Byrd
Born(1925-09-16)September 16, 1925
Suffolk, Virginia, U.S.
OriginWashington, D.C.
DiedDecember 2, 1999(1999-12-02) (aged 74)
Annapolis, Maryland, U.S.
GenresBossa nova, Latin jazz, swing
Years active1957–1999
LabelsSavoy, Riverside, Columbia, Concord Jazz
Formerly ofCal Tjader, Keter Betts, Stan Getz, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Annapolis Brass Quintet

Byrd played fingerstyle on a classical guitar.

Early life


Charlie Byrd was born in 1925 in Suffolk, Virginia, and grew up in the borough of Chuckatuck. His father, a mandolinist and guitarist, taught him how to play the acoustic steel guitar at age 10. Byrd had three brothers, Oscar, Jack, and Gene "Joe" Byrd, who was a bass player. In 1942, Byrd entered the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and played in the school orchestra. In 1943, he was drafted into the United States Army, saw combat in World War II, and was stationed in Paris in 1945. There he played in an Army Special Services band and toured occupied Europe in the all-soldier production G.I. Carmen.

After the war, Byrd returned to the United States and studied composition and jazz theory at the Harnett National Music School in Manhattan, New York City. During this time, he began playing a classical guitar. After moving to Washington, D.C., in 1950, he studied classical guitar with Sophocles Papas for several years. In 1954, he became a pupil of the Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia and spent time studying with him in Italy.

Byrd's earliest and greatest influence was the gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, whom he saw perform in Paris.[1][2][3]



In 1957, Byrd met double bassist Keter Betts in a Washington, D.C., club called the Vineyard. The two men began performing gigs together, and by October were frequently performing at a club called the Showboat. In 1959, they joined Woody Herman's band and toured Europe for three weeks as part of a State Department-sponsored goodwill tour. The other members of the band were Vince Guaraldi, Bill Harris, Nat Adderley and drummer Jimmy Campbell.[4] Byrd led his own groups that sometimes featured his brother Joe. Byrd was also active as a teacher in the late 1950s; he trained guitar students at his home in Washington, D.C., each being required to audition before he agreed to be their teacher.

Byrd was introduced to Brazilian music by Felix Grant, a friend and radio host who had contacts in Brazil in the late 1950s, and who was well-known there by 1960 due to the efforts of Brazilian radio broadcaster Paulo Santos. Following a spring 1961 diplomatic tour of South America (including Brazil) for the State Department, Byrd returned home and met with Stan Getz at the Showboat Lounge. Byrd invited Getz back to his home to listen to some bossa nova recordings by João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim which he had brought back. Getz liked what he heard and the two decided that they wanted to make an album of the songs. The task of creating an authentic sound, however, proved much more challenging than either had anticipated.[5][6]

Getz convinced Creed Taylor at Verve Records to produce the album. Taylor and Byrd assembled a group of musicians they knew. These early sessions did not turn out to either man's liking, so Byrd gathered a group of musicians that had been to Brazil with him previously and practiced with them in Washington, D.C., until he felt they were ready to record. The group included his brother Gene ("Joe") Byrd, as well as Keter Betts, Bill Reichenbach and Buddy Deppenschmidt. Reichenbach and Deppenschmidt were drummers, and the combination made it easier to achieve samba rhythm. Finally the group was deemed ready and Getz and Taylor arrived in Washington, D.C., on February 13, 1962. They recorded in a building adjacent to All Souls Unitarian Church because of the building's excellent acoustics.[5]

Jazz Samba was released in April 1962, and by September it had entered the Billboard pop album chart. By March of the following year the album had moved to number one. The term "bossa nova" was not used until later. The album remained on the charts for seventy weeks, and Getz soon beat John Coltrane in a DownBeat poll. One of the album's most popular tunes was a Jobim hit, titled "Desafinado".[5]

Following the success of Jazz Samba, Byrd signed with Riverside Records, which reissued six of his albums recorded for the small Offbeat label, a subsidiary of Washington Records.[7]

On March 13, 14, 15, 16, 1963, Byrd travelled two hours south of Washington, DC to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville to provide music for an original musical, Lament For Guitar and Two Lovers. The play was by Lee Devin of the UVa drama department, with music for 10-piece ensemble by Sidney Hodkinson of the UVa music department. Two nights later on March 18, the Byrd trio played a concert featuring "Lament for Guitar and Two Lovers" at Cabell Hall, the university's acoustic auditorium.[8] The solo dancer for the concert was Jocelyn Anker Moss.

In 1963, Byrd toured Europe with Les McCann and Zoot Sims.[9] Between 1964 and 1965, he appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival with Episcopal priest Malcolm Boyd, accompanying prayers from his book Are You Running With Me Jesus? with guitar.[10] In 1967, Byrd brought a lawsuit against Stan Getz and MGM, contending that he was unfairly paid for his contributions to the 1962 album Jazz Samba. The jury agreed with Byrd and awarded him half the royalties from the album.[11]

In 1973, Byrd moved to Annapolis, Maryland, and in September of that year he recorded an album with Cal Tjader titled Tambú, the only recording the two would make together.[12] That same year, Byrd joined guitarists Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel and formed the Great Guitars group, which also included drummer Johnny Rae.[12][13] Byrd collaborated with Venezuelan pianist and composer Aldemaro Romero on the album Onda Nueva/The New Wave.

From 1980 through 1996, he released several of his arrangements to the jazz and classical guitar community through Guitarist's Forum (, including Charlie Byrd's Christmas Guitar Solos, Mozart: Seven Waltzes For Classical Guitar, and The Charlie Byrd Library featuring the music of George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. He also collaborated with the Annapolis Brass Quintet in the late 1980s, appearing with them in over 50 concerts across the United States and releasing two albums.

Byrd played for several years at a jazz club in Silver Spring, Maryland, called The Showboat II which was owned and managed by his manager, Peter Lambros. He was also home-based at the King of France Tavern nightclub at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis from 1973 until his death in 1999. In 1992, the book Jazz Cooks—by Bob Young and Al Stankus—was published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, a compilation of recipes that include a few recipes from Byrd.[14] He also authored the 1973 publication Charlie Byrd's Melodic Method for Guitar.

Personal life


Byrd was married 3 times. His first wife was singer Virginia "Ginny" Marie Byrd, who performed vocals on a number of his early recordings[15] and who died in 1974. They had two children: Carol M. Rose and Jeffrey. Jeffrey, died in 1973 after a car accident. His second marriage to Maggie Byrd ended in divorce; they had one daughter, Charlotte E. Byrd.[16]

At the time of his death, Byrd had been married to Rebecca Byrd, of Annapolis, for one year. He was survived by his wife, his daughters from his first and second marriage, two brothers: Jack R. Byrd of Suffolk, Va., and Gene H. "Joe" Byrd of Edgewater, and a granddaughter.[16]

He loved sailboating, and owned a twenty-six-foot boat called "I'm Hip" that he sailed to various parts of the world.



Charlie Byrd died of lung cancer on December 2, 1999, at his home in Annapolis, Maryland, at the age of 74.[17]


  • 1999 – Knighted by the government of Brazil as a Knight of the Rio Branco
  • 1997 – deemed a "Maryland Art Treasure" by the Community Arts Alliance of Maryland



As leader

Recorded Title Label Released Notes
1957 Jazz Recital Savoy 1957
1957 Blues for Night People Savoy 1957
Everybody's Doin' the Bossa Nova Riverside 1960
1960 Four Suites by Ludovico Roncalli Washington Records 1960
1962 Latin Impressions Riverside 1962
1962 Jazz Samba Verve 1962 Co-led with Stan Getz
1960 Mr. Guitar Riverside 1962 Originally issued as Jazz at the Showboat, Vol. 3 (Offbeat)
1962 Bossa Nova Pelos Passaros Riverside 1962
1958 Byrd's Word! Riverside 1962 Originally issued as Jazz at the Showboat (Offbeat)
1960 The Guitar Artistry of Charlie Byrd Riverside 1963 Originally issued as Charlie's Choice (Offbeat)
1961 Charlie Byrd at the Village Vanguard Riverside 1963 Originally issued on Offbeat
1961 Blues Sonata Riverside 1963 Originally issued on Offbeat
1963 Once More! Charlie Byrd's Bossa Nova Riverside 1963
1963 Byrd at the Gate Riverside 1963
1959 Byrd in the Wind Riverside 1963 Originally issued on Offbeat
1964 Byrd Song Riverside 1964
1963 Guitar/Guitar Columbia 1965 Co-led with Herb Ellis
1965 Travellin' Man Columbia 1965
1965 Brazilian Byrd Columbia 1965
Byrdland Columbia 1966
1965 The Touch of Gold Columbia 1966
1966 Christmas Carols for Solo Guitar Columbia 1966
1967 Hollywood Byrd Columbia 1967
1965 Solo Flight Riverside 1967
1967 More Brazilian Byrd Columbia 1967
1967 Sketches of Brazil: The Music of Villa-Lobos Columbia 1968
1968 Hit Trip Columbia 1968
1968 Delicately Columbia 1968
The Great Byrd Columbia 1968
1969 Aquarius Columbia 1969
Let Go Columbia 1969
Let It Be Columbia 1970
1971 For All We Know Columbia 1971
1971 The Stroke of Genius Columbia 1971
Onda Nueva Columbia 1972 Co-led with Aldemaro Romero
1973 Crystal Silence Fantasy 1973
1973 Tambu Fantasy 1974 Co-led with Cal Tjader
1974 Byrd by the Sea Fantasy 1974
1975 Great Guitars Concord Jazz 1975 Co-led with Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis
1975 Top Hat Fantasy 1975
1976 Charlie Byrd Swings Downtown Improv 1976
1976 Great Guitars 2 Concord Jazz 1976 Co-led with Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis
1977 Charlie Byrd Crystal Clear Records 1977
1977 Encores At The Maryland Inn SRI 1977
1979 Blue Byrd Concord Jazz 1979
Sugarloaf Suite Concord Jazz 1979
Great Guitars at the Winery Concord Jazz 1980 Co-led with Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis
Brazilian Soul Concord Jazz 1981 Co-led with Laurindo Almeida
1981 Brazilville Concord Jazz 1982 Co-led with Bud Shank
1982 The Charlie Byrd Christmas Album Concord Jazz 1982
1984 Isn't It Romantic Concord Jazz 1984
1985 Tango Concord 1985 Co-led with Laurindo Almeida
1986 Byrd and Brass Concord Jazz 1986 Co-led with Annapolis Brass Quintet
1988 It's a Wonderful World 1988
Music of the Brazilian Masters Concord 1989 Co-led with Laurindo Almeida, Carlos Barbosa-Lima
1992 The Washington Guitar Quintet Concord Jazz 1992
1994 Moments Like This Concord 1994
1993 Aquarelle Concord 1994
1994 I've Got the World on a String Timeless 1994
1995 Du Hot Club de Concord Concord Jazz 1995
1996 The Return of the Great Guitars Concord Jazz 1996 Co-led with Herb Ellis, Mundell Lowe
1997 Au Courant Concord Jazz 1998
1999 My Inspiration Concord 1999
2000 For Louis Concord 2000

As sideman


With Woody Herman

  • Bamba Samba Bossa Nova (Everest, 1958)
  • Woody Herman Sextet at the Roundtable (Roulette, Forum, 1959)

With Buck Clayton and Tommy Gwaltney's Kansas City 9

With Helen Merrill

With Joe Glazer

  • Garbage and Other Songs of Our Times (Collector, 1971)

With Malcolm Boyd

  • Are You Running with Me, Jesus? (Columbia, 1965)
  • Happening: Prayers for Now (Columbia, 1965)


  1. ^ Hurwitz, Tobias. "Fly Away Home". Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved June 7, 2007.
  2. ^ "Jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd dies at 74". Archived from the original on October 8, 2008. Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  3. ^ "Charlie Byrd:Legends of Music". Archived from the original on June 12, 2007. Retrieved June 7, 2007.
  4. ^ Price, Suzi. "Legendary Bassist, Keter Betts". Archived from the original on July 2, 2007. Retrieved June 7, 2007.
  5. ^ a b c Gelly, Dave (2004). Stan Getz: Nobody Else But Me (A Musical Biography). Backbeat Books. p. 120. ISBN 0-87930-729-3.
  6. ^ Roberts, John Storm (1999). The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States. Oxford University Press. p. 171. ISBN 0-19-512101-5.
  7. ^ Offbeat Records catalog accessed October 31, 2012
  8. ^ Theater program from the production
  9. ^ Doerschuk, Robert L. (2001). 88: The Giants of Jazz Piano. Backbeat Books. p. 133. ISBN 0-87930-656-4.
  10. ^ Boyd, Malcolm (2001). Simple Grace: A Mentor's Guide to Growing Older. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 104. ISBN 0-664-22373-7.
  11. ^ Holley, Joe. "James Goding; Lawyer in Royalties Case". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 7, 2007.
  12. ^ a b Yanow, Scott (2000). Afro-Cuban Jazz. Backbeat Books. p. 144. ISBN 0-87930-619-X.
  13. ^ Sallis, James (1996). The Guitar in Jazz: An Anthology. University of Nebraska Press. p. 114. ISBN 0-8032-4250-6.
  14. ^ Fabricant, Florence (July 8, 1992). "Jazz Makers Swing From Ham Hocks To Health Food". The New York Times. Retrieved June 6, 2007.
  15. ^ "Ginny Byrd | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved June 12, 2023.
  16. ^ a b "Jazz Musician Charlie Byrd Dies (". Retrieved June 12, 2023.
  17. ^ "Jazz legend Byrd dies". BBC News. December 3, 1999. Retrieved June 7, 2007.