Byas, Don (Carlos Wesley)

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Byas, Don (Carlos Wesley)

Byas, Don (Carlos Wesley), talented jazz tenor saxophonist; b. Muskogee, Okla., Oct. 21, 1912; d. Amsterdam, Aug. 24, 1972. Byas was quite an astonishing player who surely would have been even better known and more influential in the U.S. had he not spent most of his career in Europe. He began on violin, then switched to alto sax. As a teenager, Byas worked with Benny Moten and Terrence Holder, also played in Oklahoma City with Walter Page’s Blue Devils (c. 1929). In 1931–32 he led his own band, Don Carlos and his Collegiate Ramblers (based at Langston Coll., Okla.). In 1933 he left Okla. for Calif, with Bert Johnson and his Sharps and Flats; Byas changed to tenor sax with this band. From mid-1935 through winter 1937, Byas was based in Los Angeles, playing with various bands, and then moved to N.Y. with Eddie Mallory’s Band (March 1937), accompanying Ethel Waters; he remained with this band for about 18 months. He held chairs with various bands between 1939 and early 1941, when he joined Count Basie, with whom he worked from January 1941 until November 1943, and then worked briefly with Dizzy Gillespie. During 1944-fall 1946, he gigged around N.Y., briefly leading his own band. In September 1946 Byas went to Europe as a member of Don Redman’s Band and lived in Europe until his death. He was regularly featured at jazz festivals throughout Europe and continued his prolific recording career. In 1970 he returned to the U.S. to play the Newport Jazz Festival and several club dates. He made a tour of Japan in 1971 with Art Blakely, and then returned to his home in the Netherlands, where he died of lung cancer.


“Midnight at Minton’s” (1941); “Candy” (1945); “I Got Rhythm” (1945); “Living My Life” (1946); On Blue Star (1950); Tenderly (1951); Tenor Saxophone Concerto (1951); Don Byas with Beryl Booker (1954); Jazz from Saint-Germain Des Pre (1955); Tribute to Cannonball (1961); Night in Tunisia (1963); Anthropology (1963); Don Byas Meets Ben Webster (1968).


W. Van Eyle, Don Byas Discography (Netherlands, 1967).

—John Chilton, Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter