Thursday, October 6, 2016

Joe Newman - Byers' Guide

Although contemporaneous with iconic figures of bebop, the names Byers' Guide and Joe Newman aren't likely to resonate among the bop and postbop crowds. Perhaps that's because, musically speaking, these two were throwbacks to an earlier time, when jazz was more relaxed, carefree, and swinging. Billy Byers was a kind of mid-century Renaissance man: he composed and arranged, and played piano, organ and trombone. He worked extensively in radio, television and motion pictures as a writer, arranger, conductor and trombonist; he attended Harvard University, joined the Army, and played in the bands of Georgie Auld, Benny Goodman and Charlie Ventura. Amazingly, he accomplished all that before the age of 22 ! Co-leader Joe Newman was a trumpet player who joined Lionel Hampton's band in 1941, played for a year in the Illinois Jacquet band, and enjoyed two very long stints with Count Basie, for which his work is most widely remembered.
Byers' Guide, recorded in 1956, boasts a rather curious genesis. It was issued under two different titles, apparently by two different record companies. It was evidently released first under the Jazztone Society label as "New Sounds in Swing" (J-1217). Byers' Guide was probably released shortly thereafter, with a new jacket and vibrantly cool cover art by Leah Cohen, ostensibly to reach a wider audience outside of Jazztone's subscription service. In 1992 the album was remastered to digital and issued on CD by Fresh Sound Records of Spain.* In addition to Newman and Byers, the album features Gene Quill on alto sax and clarinet, and pianist Lou Stein, who actually takes up the celesta on one of the cuts. Bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Osie Johnson, both eminently capable Jazztone standbys, round out the rhythm section. Of the ten tunes on the album, six are compositions by Byers, two are standards, and the remaining two were composed by a young musician named Judy Spencer. The LP issues were laid out very logically and symmetrically, with each side containing exactly three Byers compositions, one by Spencer, and one standard...
Gordon M. Brown "xgb" (San Diego, CA USA)

Source :

Joe Newman
Billy Byers
(feat. Gene Quill)
Byers' Guide


1 Who's Cool ? (Byers)  6:14
2 Byers' Guide (Byers)  3:52
3 Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe (Arlen, Harburg)  4:19
4 Fingernails On The Windowpane (Byers)  4:07
5 April's Delight (Judy Spencer)  6:33
6 Gin And Catatonic (Byers)  5:07
7 Dialogue In F (Spencer)  4:14
8 Tribute To The West (Byers)  4:18
9 I Found A Million Dollar Baby (Warren, Rose, Dixon)  2:22
10 Which One Is Sali (Byers)  7:30

Joe Newman - tp
Billy Byers - tb
Gene Quill - as & cl
Lou Stein - p
Milt Hinton - b
Osie Johnson - dr

Recorded in New York City ; 1956

...But this is far from being just a collection of swing music. Janus-like, the album looks forward as well as back, effectively proving that whatever boundaries are alleged to exist between various schools of jazz--swing, bop, cool--are in practice never defined as sharply as we'd often like to think. Co-leader Byers has also infused this album with a canny, "brainiac" sensibility that you might expect of a guy who attended Harvard (not unlike that of Dave Brubeck, who studied classical music with the great French composer Darius Milhaud). Just listen to Gene Quill, soaring like a Bird in "Which One is Sali ?", and in "Who's Cool ?", followed by hard-charging solos by Byers, Newman on muted trumpet, and pianist Stein--after which all three horns take turns trading fours with drummer Osie Johnson, with Newman's horn now uncorked. "Byers' Guide," the title track, swings more casually and freely, with more of the outstanding solo work by Quill and Newman that reveal them to be the real stars of this outing. "Fingernails on the Windowpane," another tune penned by Byers, is most curious, but not because its recurring theme sounds dissonant (it doesn't, especially). Rather, it's because the improvised middle section has nothing musically to do with the main theme; it's just a series of changes based on "Anything Goes." (At least that much is strongly intimated by Newman's solo on that track.) "Gin and Catatonic" and "Tribute to the West" both suggest that Newman and Byers had been listening very intently to early Miles Davis. The resemblance of these tunes to Davis' 1953 recording of "The Serpent's Tooth" (from the album "Collectors' Items") seems more than accidental.
The two standards in this set employ a quartet format, with mixed results. With open horn, Newman gives a very sensitive, expressive reading of the Arlen-Harburg tune titled (appropriately on this occasion) "Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe." But Byers' solo outing on "I Found a Million Dollar Baby" is somewhat less successful. Indeed, it reveals him to be, frankly, a better composer/arranger than a trombonist.
Ironically, the weakest and strongest tracks on this album both issue from the pen of Judy Spencer. "April's Delight" sounds the most like traditional swing-era fare. Its simple melodic line is pleasant but derivative (just compare it to Les and Larry Elgart's "The Turtle Walk"), and sounds for all the world like the work of a young amateur composer. How very shocking, therefore, that "Dialogue in F" should turn out to be the creative and exquisitely-crafted stunner that it is! For this tune Byers and Newman pick up their mutes, and Quill his B-flat clarinet, while pianist Stein sits at the keyboard of a celesta for the opening and closing theme. The theme, laid out in A-A'-B-A-A'-B' format, consists of clever rondos, almost chamber-music-like, rendered in duets by Quill and Byers, then Quill and Newman. In the B sections, bassist Hinton walks, then double-times in the highest registers, while Johnson provides subtle brushwork to underscore the muted trombone and celeste. In the improvised middle section, Stein reverts to the piano for a bit more jazz "kick." The entire tune unfolds with uncommon elegance and grace, but most important, IT SWINGS! "Dialogue in F" is the standout tune that you'll remember again and again each time you put this recording back on the shelf.
In terms of artistic value, recorded sound, and just plain notoriety, Byers' Guide will not generate the sort of heat or buzz that attends to a typical Rudy Van Gelder remastering of Miles, or Monk. Nevertheless, this is interesting and rewarding music that will make you wish it had been better-served by Jazztone's recording equipment and engineering. It deserves a much better fate than to simply languish in obscurity, only to release its final gasping breaths as it goes out of print. (And it absolutely warrants greater magnanimity than the two-star slap in the face administered by the reviewers at If you're fond of collecting jazz esoterica, you'll want to make Byers' Guide one of your own.
*Interesting aside: The Fresh Sound CD release contains a rather severely-condensed version of the original Jazztone liner notes by Paul Shapler. Notably absent from this abridgment: a two-paragraph tirade in which Shapler rails against certain unnamed "jazz modernists" for adopting formalism and abstraction, as well as influences from Bach, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. "They lose sight of, or else deliberately ignore the basic elements--indeed, the life forces--of jazz...." he writes, concluding that "...[t]heir music is neurotic and anti-social, no longer cool, but cold. It leads nowhere." Naturally, the passage of time and the perseverance of certain artistic verities have shown this conjecture to be rather silly, if not absolute nonsense. But perhaps we can also credit Fresh Sound's catalog for the omission of Shapler's more ill-mannered remarks, since that catalog contains much of the music that Shapler is so bent on attacking.


ita diegues said...

Muchas gracias Melanchthon.

jerry g said...

looks interesting thanks

db446e08-0b49-11e1-bf6f-000f20980440 said...

I'm surprised the reviewer didn't know about Billy Byers' work with Frank Zappa.

From the Internet:

"Bill Byers provided trombone for Waka/Jawaka, The Grand Wazoo, and Quaudiophiliac."

"Mr Billy Byers (as credited on jazz and popular music recordings) was a highly respected arranger for Count Basie and other bands. He made a very good living as a ghost arranger in the studios when jazz was not popular and surely did much of the Zappa jazz-fusion arrangements for Waka Jawaka and Grand Wazoo. He may have had a part in the arranging of Peaches En Regalia."

johnp said...

Thanks for this!

nlrp said...

merci. ... a new sound for me. regards

Philo said...

Newman & Byers are new to me. I do know & enjoy Milt Hinton's work on bass. The music is a delight, a real treat. Thanks for posting.

Baron said...

Thanks Mel ... Byers and Newman ... Baron

Jazzrealities said...

Can you please help with PW for Moody and Byers? Melanchthon is not working.
Great Music!

Grenelle said...

Many thanks for your selections and reviews. could you please give me the password, or any clue to find it? Friendly.

tdelyon said...

Thanks a lot ;)

sudzy said...

♪♫ ♪ ♪♫ ♫ ♪ ♫ Merci!

jazztap said...


jazztap said...


yewsta said...

Catching up on Joe Newman. Thank you very much.

cvllos said...

Thank you, Melanchthon!

Foth said...

Thanks so much for the re-post

Tibau said...

Great album.!!

duck said...

A Most interesting album, thanks again, Mel

Doug said...

Any chance for a repost?Thanks.

Melanchthon said...

deGallo said...

Great! Thank you.

Fred Archtop said...

Thanks Mel. Never heared about that one.

Doug said...

Fantastic.Thanks Mel.I look forward to hearing this album.

John Pickworth said...

Thanks Mel !

Kovina Kris said...

Very unique issue. Thank you so much Mel!

Jazzsoulman said...

Thank You