Another jazz great from Chuckatuck

Published 9:23 pm Wednesday, February 5, 2014

By Frank Roberts

Last week I told you about one of the music world’s most respected instrumentalists — guitarist Charlie Byrd, born and raised in Chuckatuck.

Well, another Byrd also flew the coop and landed in the world of jazz. The youngest of the four brothers, Gene H. “Joe” Byrd divided his time between collaborating with Charlie Byrd and performing with other respected musicians.

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Like Charlie, Joe played guitar, but his claim to fame was as a bassist and, like his brother, he was — pardon the pun — “instrumental” in popularizing the bossa nova. Both brothers worked frequently with the great jazz saxophonist Stan Getz.

They all initially gained national attention via an album called “Jazz Samba,” recorded in 1962 at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in D.C.

Joe Byrd, who died last March, moved around but spent the bulk of his time with Charlie — four decades, in fact.

Together, among other things, they made many international trips, providing excellent music and as goodwill ambassadors for the State Department.

For the most part, the duo was headquartered around Washington, D.C., where they played in prestigious clubs and managed to perform for a couple of White House occupants and their families.

Joe’s family thinned when Charlie B. died from lung cancer in 1999. Joe then performed with such greats as Coleman Hawkins and, eventually, fronted his own trio, which recorded several quality jazz albums.

A Washington Post article noted that if Joe ever felt overwhelmed by his brother’s marquee status, “He rarely, if ever, let on.”

Joe’s wife, Elana, an attorney, said her husband “adored Charlie, and they got along well. They were kind of quiet guys who understood each other. There was no rivalry whatsoever.”

The family seemed to live by the concept that “the family that plays together, stays together.” The two non-musical Byrds were Oscar and Jack.

Another outstanding Suffolkian, someone you know, was also a fine musician, even making records in France. I will have something about him later.

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You may remember when a couple of singers turned detectives on the radio: Frank Sinatra portrayed a private eye with the colorful name of Rocky Fortune, and Dick Powell, who tired of musicals, portrayed a private eye named Richard Diamond, a real gem.

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And remember Ed Gardner? He lived in Astoria, Long Island, across the tracks from my Sunnyside home. He was the proprietor of “Duffy’s Tavern.” “Duff” was never seen or heard, so Gardner would answer the phone with, “Hello, Duffy’s Tavern, where the elite meet to eat. Archie the manager speaking. Duffy ain’t here.”

Among my favorite Archie-isms: “Opera is when a guy gets stabbed and instead of bleeding, he sings.” “Leave us not jump to seclusion.” “Now, don’t infirm me that I’m stupid.” “Fate has fickled its finger at me.” “Get me the lost and foundling division.”

Archie would probably refer to Charlie and Joe Byrd as Charlie and Joe Boid.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.