Today, the name of Charlie Byrd (1925-1999) remains synonymous with jazz guitar and moreover, with the soft sounds of Brazil’s bossa nova, which he helped bring into the mainstream of American popular culture. Cherry Red’s El Records imprint has recently celebrated a key decade in Byrd’s career with a fun new compilation. Sixties Byrd draws on eight albums from the prolific artist originally released on Columbia Records between 1965 and 1969, all produced by Teo Macero (Bitches Brew, Time Out). This 24-song collection features Byrd’s soft takes on some of the decade’s most famous, and defining, songs – the compositions that expanded the purview of the Great American Songbook.
A pupil of Andres Segovia and disciple of Django Reinhardt, the Virginia-born guitarist had been recording since the 1950s on labels such as Savoy and Riverside before making his Verve debut in 1962 with the landmark Jazz Samba. A collaboration with saxophonist Stan Getz, Jazz Samba was a landmark title in igniting the nascent bossa nova craze and paving the way for Getz’s crossover smash Getz/Gilberto with Joao Gilberto. It also began Byrd’s love affair with the bossa nova, which would continue throughout his lifetime.
Naturally, the songs of Brazil and legendary composer Antonio Carlos Jobim figure on this collection, including “The Girl from Ipanema,” “Corcovado,” and “Meditation.” During the period reflected here, Byrd recorded with ensembles of numerous sizes, from lush, full orchestras with strings, brass, and woodwinds to trio, quartet, and quintet settings. A chorus also occasionally was utilized. The varied approaches keep this set lively, although in these tightly arranged tracks (including four from 1966’s The Touch of Gold arranged by Charlie Calello, whose credits include The Four Seasons, Laura Nyro, Bruce Springsteen, and countless others), the jazz improvisation is kept to a minimum. Though Byrd hews closely to the songs’ melodies as he brings his fleet and recognizable touch on the guitar, invention and improvisation aren’t completely absent. Musicians include Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Paul Griffin, Herbie Hancock, and Chuck Rainey on the tunes from 1968’s The Great Byrd, and Purdie, Hancock, and electric guitarist Vinnie Bell on 1969’s Aquarius. Charlie’s brother and longtime band member Joe Byrd plays bass on many of the tracks here, as well.
Many of the most familiar writers of the 1960s are featured here. The Beatles’ songbook is tapped for renditions of “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” “Girl,” and “Michelle.” Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s catalogue yields fine performances of “Alfie,” “The Look of Love,” and most happily, the under-recorded gem “Who is Gonna Love Me.” (Dionne Warwick took the song to the top 5 AC and top 40 Pop charts in 1968.) Jimmy Webb is even better represented, with “Up, Up and Away” and the Glen Campbell hits “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “Where’s the Playground, Susie.” Though these songs are familiar, Byrd’s fresh, varied and textured jazz-meets-pop interpretations make them all valuable inclusions.
Sixties Byrd, released by El in conjunction with Columbia and Sony, is a fine sampler for this period of Byrd’s long recording career. Liner notes and credits are included in the 12-page black-and-white booklet. As many of the albums tapped here are not otherwise currently available on CD (Brazilian Byrd, Hollywood Byrd, The Touch of Gold, and Byrdland being notable exceptions), one hopes El will delve into Byrd’s catalogue with individual reissues from this era and beyond. Sixties Byrd is available now at the links below!
- The Girl from Ipanema
- Norwegian Wood
- A Taste of Honey
- The Shadow of Your Smile
- Georgy Girl
- A Time for Love
- Up, Up and Away
- The Look of Love
- Sunday Mornin’
- By the Time I Get to Phoenix
- Wichita Lineman
- Scarborough Fair/Canticle
- Lullaby from Rosemary’s Baby
- Who Is Gonna Love Me
- Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In
- Time of the Season
- Where’s the Playground Susie?
Tracks 1-2 from Brazilian Byrd, Columbia, 1965
Tracks 3-4 from Byrdland, Columbia, 1966
Tracks 5-8 from The Touch of Gold, Columbia, 1966
Tracks 9-11 from Hollywood Byrd, Columbia, 1967
Tracks 12-14 from Hit Trip, Columbia, 1968
Tracks 15-16 from Delicately: The Stroke of Genius, Columbia, 1968
Tracks 17-20 from The Great Byrd, Columbia, 1968
Tracks 21-24 from Aquarius, Columbia, 1969