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Jaki Byard: Age 76 | Cause Of Death: GUNSHOT

(Died: February 11, 1999)

Jazz Artist Jaki Byard Died of Bullet Wound 

by Andrew Jacobs   

 A jazz musician who was found dead in his Queens home on Thursday night was killed by a gunshot wound to the head, police said.   

 Jaki Byard, 76, a prolific pianist who once toured Europe with Charles Mingus, was killed by a single bullet that entered through his nose,  the New York City Medical Examiner said on Friday.   

 Paramedics, responding to a 911 call, found Mr. Byard dead at 11:45 PM at the home on Hollis Avenue that he shared with two of his daughters, the police said.   

 Investigators said he was last seen by his family at 6 PM on Thursday and that he was killed about four hours later.   

Detective Joseph Pentangelo, a Police Dept. spokesman, said no weapon had been recovered and that investigators had no motive or suspects in the slaying. There were no signs of robbery, forced entry or a struggle, Detective Pentangelo said.   

~Editor’s note: I’m guessing assisted suicide. 

Fuller Up The Dead Musicians Directory

John Arthur "Jaki" Byard

Jaki Byard
Age: 76
Died: February 11, 1999
Cause Of Death: GUNSHOT


Jazz Artist Jaki Byard Died of Bullet Wound

NY Times, Sunday, Feb. 14, 1999  p. 44

By Andrew Jacobs

A jazz musician who was found dead in his Queens home on Thursday night was killed by a gunshot wound to the head, police said. 

Jaki Byard, 76, a prolific pianist who once toured Europe with Charles Mingus, was killed by a single bullet that entered through his nose, the New York City Medical Examiner said on Friday. 

Paramedics, responding to a 911 call, found Mr. Byard dead at 11:45 PM at the home on Hollis Avenue that he shared with two of his daughters, the police said. Investigators said he was last seen by his family at 6 PM on Thursday and that he was killed about four hours later.

Detective Joseph Pentangelo, a Police Department spokesman, said no weapon had been recovered and that investigators had no motive or suspects in the slaying. There were no signs of robbery, forced entry or a struggle, Detective Pentangelo said. 

One of the jazz world’s most enduring and eclectic musicians, Mr. Byard played as recently as two weeks ago at a club in Boston. He was best known for his unabashed mixing of styles and a witty stage presence that charmed audiences. He recently recorded a compact disc with the musician Michael Marcus, to be released in March.

Writing in The New York Times in 1989, Peter Watrous called Mr. Byard “one of jazz’s great surrealists, a comic who hasn’t a moment’s fear of disturbing the sanity of the performance.” Mr. Byard could carelessly switch from bebop to swing to funk. 

In the 1960’s, he frequently collaborated with Charles Mingus, Charlie Mariano, Booker Ervin and Don Ellis. In the 1970’s his big band, the Apollo Stompers, was a regular on the Greenwich Village jazz circuit.

A woman who answered the phone at Mr. Byard’s home last night said that the family was too upset to talk. “We’re all just in a state of shock right now,” she said. 

Jaki Byard, a Jazz Musician and Teacher, Is Dead at 76


NEW YORK — Jaki Byard, a pianist, saxophonist and teacher who recorded with some of jazz’s most important figures, was shot dead Feb. 11 in his house in Queens, said his daughter, Denise Byard-Mitchell. He was 76.

A police investigation is continuing. Ms. Byard-Mitchell said that the family was baffled by the killing, and that she and other family members had been home when Byard died and had heard nothing.

Byard was an extremely important figure in modern jazz for several reasons. In his playing he spanned the history of jazz, and his improvisations, filled with quick stylistic changes, moved from boogie-woogie to free jazz. He was a stylistic virtuoso, his fecund imagination saw comparisons and contrasts everywhere, and his improvisations were encyclopedic and profound. He also had a sense of humor that rippled through everything he played.

“I played Bud Powell solos, and that was a phase,” Byard once said in an interview with one of his students, the saxophonist Marty Ehrlich. “Then there was Garner, and that was a phase, and then Tatum, and then finally I decided to put everything together and say the hell with it, this is it.”

It made him the perfect accompanist for two of the more well versed musicians of modern jazz, Charles Mingus and Rahsaan Roland Kirk , and Byard was one of the few jazz pianists capable of keeping up not just with their stylistic references, but also with their humor and volcanic intensity.

Byard also taught for several decades and brought his cross-generational sensibility to his students. The re-evaluation of jazz history that began in the late 1970s and early 1980s was partly due to Byard’s encouragement and example.


Byard was, early in his career, an integral part of a little-known jazz scene in Boston. During the late 1940s he worked with the tenor saxophonist Sam Rivers in a band, and worked society jobs, sometimes with the violinist and trumpeter Ray Nance.

He then took a job with the alto saxophonist Earl Bostic in 1949, and when he returned to Boston he performed as a solo pianist, and later joined the big band led by Herb Pomeroy, one of Boston’s most important bands.

In 1959 he joined Maynard Ferguson’s orchestra for two years. Also that year he met the saxophonist Eric Dolphy, and recorded with him on the album “Outward Bound.”

In 1961 Dolphy procured Byard’s first recording date for Prestige records, producing “Here’s Jaki,” which featured the Boston-based drummer Roy Haynes.

Byard also worked with the innovative trumpeter Don Ellis. For the rest of the 60s Byard became the pianist of choice for one of jazz’s many vanguards.

In the early 1960s he started recording with Mingus, and his playing can be heard on “The Complete Town Hall Concert,” from 1962, and the two classic albums Mingus recorded for Impulse, “Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus” and “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.”

In 1963 he recorded and worked with the tenor saxophonist Booker Irvin, another Mingus associate, and with Charlie Mariano. Two years later he began an association with Kirk, recording and performing with the saxophonist.

During this time Byard began teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he became an important figure in jazz education. He recorded regularly until his death, and when Duke Ellington became ill at the end of his life, filled the piano chair in the Ellington Orchestra.

In the late 1970s Byard led the Apollo Stompers big band in Boston and New York, and he continued teaching at the New England Conservatory and at the Manhattan School of Music, along with stints at Bennington College, the Hartford School of Music, the Brooklyn Conservatory, the University of Massachusetts and others.

In addition to Ms. Byard-Mitchell, he is survived by another daughter, Diane, and a son, Gerald, all of Queens, four grandsons and six great-grandsons.

Pianist Jaki Byard Found Dead From Gunshot

By Drew Wheeler JCS

Jaki Byard, one of the most creative and respected pianists in post-bop and avant-garde jazz, was found dead in his Queens, New York apartment in the evening of Feb. 11. The New York Medical Examiner’s Office disclosed the next day that he was killed by a bullet to the head. Byard was 76 and shared the apartment with his two daughters.

A New York Police Department spokesman said that no gun was found in Byard’s apartment, and that there were no signs of a struggle, forced entry or robbery. Members of Byard’s family had seen him as late as 6:00 PM that evening. His estimated time of death was around 10:00 PM.

Byard became well known in the 1960s as the pianist for bassist/bandleader Charles Mingus, but also became a noted educator and released a series of highly-regarded solo albums for such labels as Prestige, Muse, Soul Note and Concord. He was featured prominently on saxophonist Michael Marcus’ 1998 album Involution.

If anyone has information to supply please contact editor ~ed.


Jaki Byard

June 15, 1922 – February 11, 1999 AKA: John A. Byard, Jr.

Producer Sonja Williams

His playing is rich, masterful and all encompassing, covering everything from stride and ragtime to modern polyrhythms and atonality. Pianist, composer, arranger, and teacher Jaki Byard, who turns 75 this year, is considered the consummate master of every style. In this 75th Birthday tribute we take a kaleidoscopic journey through the music of Jaki Byard.

Born June 15, 1922 in Worchester, Massachusetts, Byard was always surrounded by music. He took piano lessons at an early age and spent many hours in front of the radio with his father listening to the big band sounds of the 30s. His father, who was a trumpeter, also influenced him to experiment with other instruments like the trumpet and the saxophone.

In 1941, Byard moved from Worcester to Boston, but was soon drafted into the Army. He met fellow musicians drummer Kenny Clarke and pianist Ernie Washington who encouraged him to play in the Army band, however; the band didn’t need a pianist, so Byard played the trombone. After the Army, Byard moved back to Boston to study music on his own focusing on the styles of two of his favorite pianists — Bud Powell and Erroll Garner.

During the late 40s and early 50s, Byard’s talent as a pianist were in-demand. He began teaching, helping to pave the way for other musicians such as trumpeter Herb Pomeroy who credits Byard as being “the force behind younger musicians in Boston learning about the changes in music…” Pianist and educator Dr. Billy Taylor talks about Byard and describes his playing style, “Like many pianists, you can’t put him in a box and say he’s like this, or that he does this all the time, explains Taylor. “He does the things that he has in mind in and of that moment. And I think that’s what jazz is about and he epitomizes what a great jazz musician should aspire to.”

In 1955, the multi-instrumentalist became a tenor saxophonist as well as a composer and arranger, for Pomeroy’s band. After a couple of years with the group he returned to playing solo piano and in 1958 recorded his first solo album “Blues for Smoke.” A year later he moved to New York and joined Maynard Ferguson’s band before joining Charles Mingus. Playing with Mingus pushed Byard rhythmically as well as harmonically into uncharted musical territories. After his stint with Mingus, he began working with saxophonist Eric Dolphy. He also began writing and arranging for his own records which he recorded with musicians like bassist Ron Carter, violinist Ray Nance, guitarist George Benson, and saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk among others.

Byard joined the faculty at the New England Conservatory which marked the beginning of his formal teaching career. At that time he also formed a big band called the Apollo Stompers. After seven decades of performing and writing, Byard has created a powerful legacy of music and has touched the lives of many. Today, Jaki Byard is still one of the best solo pianists in the jazz field always inspiring and delighting audiences during his rare concert appearances.

Interviewees include Byard, Ron Carter, Ralph Hamperian, John Hicks, Jackie McLean, Herb Pomeroy, and Dr. Billy Taylor.

Jaki Byard, A Powerful Eclecticism

The jazz mainstream is currently overflowing with eclectic reworkings of the tradition. Among jazz pianists, no one does it better than Jaki Byard, one of the few truly original modern jazz piano stylists. When Byard plays, you can hear the whole history of the instrument, from James P. Johnson to Cecil Taylor. He can stride with the best of them, and he rivals the top avant-garde modernists. And he has been doing this for over fifty years. None of his artistry is imitative, however, for he assimilates all of his influences into a unified style. Even his first recordings, made more than thirty years ago, demonstrate the spirit of innovation he brings to his reuse of the past — as well as his generous sense of humor. Who else would play “Besame Mucho” in four-four time, but make it sound like a waltz?

Byard had a classical piano education, but he began his professional career as a trumpeter (he also played trombone and saxophone in various bands). Although he eventually became known as a pianist, he kept up his saxophone technique, and there are some nice examples of his tenor-playing on records. He has played and recorded in a wide variety of formats and with musicians of various generations, ranging from a stint in the 1960s with Charlie Mingus’s most adventurous group to experiments with Eric Dolphy to duets with Earl Hines and Byard’s own classically oriented big band, the Apollo Stompers.

As good as all of these are, I personally prefer Byard’s trio and solo ventures. Offhand, I think no other jazz pianist of his generation has made as many solo recordings — seven, including the first record made under his own name, Blues for Smoke. He carries solo projects off so well because he has such a variety of approaches, constantly finding new ways of handling familiar songs, and because he plays the piano with both hands. With the possible exception of Ray Bryant, no other modern jazz pianist has such a powerful left hand — a resource that more than makes up for the lack of a rhythm section. — Piotr Michalowski