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Q & A: Don Byron

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The Scene talks New York, music and ex-girlfriends with jazz clarinetist Don Byron.

The Scene: What does New York mean to you?

Don Byron: I grew up in New York so I do not have the romance about New York that people from other places have -- like, people from here they just get tired of it. When I went away to Boston I kind of got tired of the pace and the crime but there is an energy here that is irreplaceable. If you haven't really come to New York and tried to make it on some scene it is pretty much thought that you have not really done much. It is a place where you have to prove yourself, prove your concept, prove your plans, prove your writing -- prove your product is valid.

There is a big difference between music in the country and the city. Music in the city is usually more hard-edged, a little more ranged and a little more sophisticated. If you study rural music it has an illusive feeling. I think something about the energy level of the city distinguishes the music. New York definitely stays in the forefront in terms of theatre, music and dance. I do not think any other cities can really compare. In terms of performing, New York is the big stage.

TS: Your music is incredibly diverse. What are your influences?

DB: I was being trained as a classical musician, and then I started playing in Latin groups in my neighborhood. And then in Boston I started playing jazz, playing some Jewish music, continuing to play a very contemporary 20th century kind of chamber music and a whole lot of other stuff too. I'm also influenced by the acting style of Lee Strasberg. I kind of got the idea that somehow I could change myself, musically, the way an actor changes himself. No one expects an actor to play the same part all the time, and no actor wants to do that. Musicians on the other hand are more like character actors. So I made a conscious decision that I wanted to explore my ability to do a few different styles of stuff and reading about acting became a real support.

TS: Do you still have close links with the city?

DB: My father still lives here, a lot of my family lives here. I've stayed in touch with all my ex-girlfriends -- we see each other all the time! It's not a little town where everybody knows everybody, but you know some people. People still keep in touch because I am kind of semi-famous to them, which is good because I would probably have to track them down.

TS: What does it mean to you to play the Village Vanguard?

DB: It's a place where a lot of people have made great live records live, particularly John Coltrane who made some of his greatest records here. I started coming here when I was 14 and I saw all kinds of great people like the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Joe Henderson, Betty Carter, Bill Evans -- I saw him before he died. And I have had the privilege of coming here and playing. To be able to play my own music here -- every time I play here I just thank God because coming here is like the biggest honor. A lot of places that I play have pictures up but none of them here are of me. It's kind of like having a star on Hollywood walk of fame in a way. It's the place in the world for me -- I have played in lots of festivals all over the world, lots of clubs but this is the club that all the others imitate. This room has a great sound. Anywhere you sit you could hear everything in balance, the piano here has traditionally been a good one.



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