Falling Rains of Life: The Jaki Byard Story by David "Chet" Williamson Sneade
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For those who are just being introduced to Mr. Byard, he was a commanding figure in the jazz world. His piano playing embodied all the styles of the 20th Century, and although he earned his stripes in nightclubs, Mr. Byard was a solid family man who raised three children in a middle-class home in the Jamaica section of Queens, NY. In his lifetime, Jaki brought a great deal of joy into the world. Sadly, he was murdered in his home on February 11, 1999. To this day, his death remains an unsolved homicide. Fortunately, his legacy is rich. In his foreword to Falling Rains of Life, jazz radio host at WFCR 88.5 FM Tom Reney wrote: "For Worcester-born acolytes like me and Chet Williamson, the devoted author of this most welcome biography of Jaki Byard, it was inevitable that as teenaged converts to jazz in the late 1960s, Byard would become an intriguing figure for us, and in time even heroic. Unlike Boston, in whose shadow it has stood for 300 years, Worcester’s basic reputation was as a conservative, industrial powerhouse, a city of nonunion skilled machinists, the nation’s biggest that was not on a major waterway. There were several excellent colleges within its borders, and the poets Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, and Frank O’Hara were natives, but the substance of the hometown legend was blue-collar. Worcester was a place where one was continually challenged to navigate close-minded thickets that reinforced what Kunitz called the city’s “parochial climate.” But here and there were trailblazers to the wider world, and Jaki Byard was undoubtedly our man in jazz. Worcester was also the birthplace of jazz musicians Wendell Cully, Barbara Carroll, Frank Capp, Tom Price, and Don Fagerquist, but Jaki was the only one who had gained renown as an innovator and was still garnering write-ups. By the time I became aware of him, he’d released several acclaimed albums on Prestige Records, had spent six years with Charles Mingus, and he’d recorded milestone sessions with Mingus associates Eric Dolphy, Joe Farrell, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Booker Ervin. As pianist Fred Hersch, who studied with Byard at New England Conservatory of Music, put it in his memoir Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz, Jaki was doubly impressive as both a teacher and as 'someone who had been a part of major moments in jazz.'”
As mentioned, Byard was murdered and his homicide is still unsolved. Rather than an investigation of Jaki’s death, this book is a celebration of his life. It includes a collection of more than 50 photographs -- many unpublished, a host of testimonials, a nightclub full of anecdotes and stories from fellow musicians, and a biography that covers his early life in Worcester to his struggles in Boston, through his Big Apple carving, and ultimate success on the world stage. The book also includes a jazz discography, a list of compositions, and a rundown of his students.