Photo of Jaki Byard

Jaki Byard

The multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, and teacher Jaki Byard had a major impact on Boston jazz at mid-century. In 1964, Nat Hentoff wrote that Jaki Byard was “a pervasive influence on nearly every young Boston musician who was interested in discovering new jazz routes.” Among them was trumpeter Herb Pomeroy. Byard helped create the sound of the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra.

Byard and Pomeroy were part of the modern jazz contingent resident at the Hi-Hat and the Melody Lounge, and they played together often. Both played on Charlie Mariano’s 1953 Imperial sessions, and Jaki’s classic, “Diane’s Melody,” debuted on one of Mariano’s Imperial 10-inch LPs. Byard was playing intermission piano at the Stable in 1955 when Pomeroy, who knew Jaki played saxophone, asked him to join his still-forming big band.

Herb Pomeroy was never shy about giving the inventive Jaki Byard his share of the credit for the Pomeroy Orchestra’s success. Byard arranged much of the band’s “Living History of Jazz” concert, which narrated the history of jazz stretching from its African roots to the freshest of Pomeroy’s charts. The eclectic Byard wove bits of Joplin, Ellington, Bix, Bird, and the rest into a cohesive whole. It did well on the college circuit. Somebody, somewhere, must have a tape of this concert. I would love to hear it.

Jaki Byard’s second contribution was even greater than his arranging. Byard put Pomeroy on the fast track to Ellington. Pomeroy’s Ellington course at Berklee was one of his landmark contributions to the curriculum there, and it was Jaki who opened his eyes to the full Ellington panorama. Pomeroy’s band, when Byard was a member, owed much to Basie and Woody, and not so much to Duke. Jaki helped alter its course. Herb would arrive at Ellington eventually, but Byard shortened the journey considerably. Exhibit A: “Aluminum Baby,” the Byard composition bursting with Ellington ideas that became the Pomeroy band’s most requested tune.

In the liner notes of his Out Front LP, Byard said of his time in the Pomeroy band: “That’s when I got my saxophone thing really going further…playing in the sax section. Serge Chaloff was part of it. Bad, man! That band was the most fiery one of all.”

Byard left the Pomeroy band in September 1957, but he cast a long shadow. “Aluminum Baby” was a lasting part of Pomeroy’s life. He recorded it again in 2003, with his trio, 46 years after the big band recording made when Jaki was on the band. And that, my friends, is a pervasive influence.

Twenty years after his time with Herb Pomeroy, Jaki founded the Apollo Stompers. Here they have a go with “Aluminum Baby,” at a slightly faster temp than the original.