Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Destination Key West: Unearthing a Don Byas Collection

On vacation, enjoying the sun, the beach and pool, the food, and the relaxation. The food has been great, the vintage buildings wonderful to look at, and browsing through the stores fun. Unfortunately through talking to some of the locals, I have learned that the rents on Duval Street and the internet have had a deleterious effect on music and book stores, my two favorite prowls. Other than a chain FYE store further out of town, there are no stores dedicated to selling CDs, new or old; and amazingly for an island with such a literary history, only one book store left, which I visited yesterday.

Key West Island Books, 513 Fleming Street is clearly bucking the trend, and hopefully is suceeding. According to the merchant I spoke with yesterday, three other bookshops have closed down since August 2011, so they are the last of their kind. And what a fun store. Old books, new books, rare books are all crammed into this unique place, separated by subject but seemingly almost randomly placed. Makes for a really fun browse, especially when one finds the small area set aside for CDs, which include an eclectic mix of some jazz, some classical, some new age, reggae, and some local stuff. Not a large collection, but at least an opportunity to find one CD I had not seen previously, Don Byas "Riffin' and Jammin', on Past Perfect Silverline Records, 2001.

And Don Byas fits the mold of what I wanted this blog to be about -- the excellent players that seem to get overlooked,either new or old, of which he is most definitely one. In the 40s and 50s, Byas was one of the really great tenor sax players, but his move to Europe in 1946 took him far from the spotlight here in the U.S. His advanced swing stylings and later bop music are evident on this disc, which spans 1945 through 1947, and features Byas in quartets and quintets with such notables as Errol Garner, Slam Stewart, Sid Catlett, and Billy Taylor; on songs like Laura, Dark Eyes, Ain't Misbehavin', Body and Soul, and the title cut.

I have several Byas recordings at home and this addition to my collection is welcome. I highly recommend his playing to folks who want to hear another fine tenor from the days of Cleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

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