Donald Byron (born November 8, 1958) is an American composer and multi-instrumentalist. He primarily plays clarinet but has also played bass clarinet and saxophone in a variety of genres that includes free jazz and klezmer.

Don Byron
Photo by Ed Newman
Photo by Ed Newman
Background information
Born (1958-11-08) November 8, 1958 (age 64)
Bronx, New York, United States
GenresAvant-garde jazz klezmer
Instrument(s)Clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophone
Years active1980s–present
LabelsNonesuch, Blue Note, Cantaloupe


His mother was a pianist. His father worked as a mailman and played bass in calypso bands.[1] Byron listened to Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis while growing up, but he was exposed to other styles through trips to the ballet and symphony orchestra.[2] When he was a child, he had asthma, and a doctor recommended playing an instrument to improve his breathing. This was why he started playing clarinet. He grew up in the South Bronx among many Jewish neighbors who sparked an interest in klezmer. Other influences include Joe Henderson, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Hamilton, and Tony Scott. In his teens he took clarinet lessons from Joe Allard. George Russell was one of his teachers at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. At the school he was a member of Klezmer Conservatory Band led by Hankus Netsky. In the 1980s he moved to New York City where he played with avant-garde jazz musicians such as Hamiet Bluiett, Craig Harris, and David Murray.[1]

Byron is a member of the Black Rock Coalition. In 2001, he performed "Bli Blip" for the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot + Indigo, a tribute to Duke Ellington which raised money for charities devoted to increasing AIDS awareness and fighting the disease. He has recorded with Bill Frisell, Joe Henry, Marc Ribot, Vernon Reid, and Allen Toussaint.

He has worked as a professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver (2015), The University at Albany (2005–2009), and MIT (2007–2008), teaching composition, improvisation, music history, clarinet, and saxophone.

Byron is a practicing jazz historian, and some of his albums have been recreations (in spirit) of forgotten moments in the history of popular music. Examples are Plays the Music of Mickey Katz and Bug Music.[3]

Awards and honorsEdit

Byron won the Rome Prize Fellowship awarded by the American Academy in Rome in 2009. His Seven Etudes for solo piano, commissioned by pianist Lisa Moore, made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Musical Composition in 2009. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo in 2005 for his bass clarinet solo on "I Want to Be Happy" from Ivey-Divey.

He was a judge for the 2nd annual Independent Music Awards.[4]

Byron was named a 2007 USA Prudential Fellow[5] and awarded a grant by United States Artists, a public charity that supports and promotes the work of American artists. He also won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007.


As leaderEdit

As composerEdit

  • Bang on a Can All Stars & Don Byron: A Ballad for Many (Cantaloupe, 2006)
  • Lisa Moore: Seven (Cantaloupe, 2009)
  • String Quartet No. 2; Four Thoughts on Marvin Gaye, III, ETHEL: Light (Cantaloupe, 2006)
  • String Quartet No. 2; Four Thoughts on Marvin Gaye, I–IV, ETHEL: Heavy (Innova, 2012)

As sidemanEdit

With Uri Caine

With Marilyn Crispell

With Bill Frisell

With Craig Harris

With David Murray

  • David Murray Big Band conducted by Lawrence "Butch" Morris (DIW/Columbia, 1991)
  • South of the Border (DIW/Columbia, 1993)

With Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra

  • You Are Here (Auracle, 1998)
  • Highwire (True North, 2002)

With Ralph Peterson Jr.

  • Presents the Fo'tet (Somethin' Else/Blue Note, 1990)
  • Ornettology (Somethin' Else/Blue Note, 1992)
  • The Fo'Tet Augmented (Criss Cross,2004)

With Bobby Previte

With Reggie Workman

With others


  1. ^ a b Kelsey, Chris. "Don Byron". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  2. ^ "Don Byron". All About Jazz. Archived from the original on 2010-06-06. Retrieved 2010-01-17.
  3. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Bug Music". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  4. ^ Independent Music Awards - Past Judges Archived July 13, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Meet the USA Fellows". Retrieved 2014-07-28.
  6. ^ "Don Byron | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 December 2018.

External linksEdit