Saxophonist and flautist Byard Lancaster has contributed much to jazz through his talent for improvisation and overflowing creativity. An active member of the free jazz movement, his music is rooted in African-American culture and his Jamaican experiences.
Born in 1942 in Philadelphia, Byard Lancaster first learned the piano before taking up the alto saxophone at the age of 5. He played in church with his sister in 1949, then joined his school orchestra and learned tenor saxophone.
He then studied at the Settlement Music School and the Berklee School of Music, alongside other leading musicians of the second wave of free jazz: Dave Burrell, Ted Daniel, Bobby Kapp... Byard Lancaster befriended Dave Burrell and moved to New York with him. He evolves in an environment very marked by free jazz and participates in jam sessions with artists such as Archie Shepp, Elvin Jones, Bill Dixon, Sonny Sharrock...
In 1965, he founded the group Untraditional Jazz Improvisational Team with Burrell. The following year, he made his first recordings (on flute or viola) accompanying drummer Sunny Murray, saxophonist Marzette Watts and trumpet player Bill Dixon. His first album, It's Not Up to Us, was released in 1968.
In the 1970s, he lived between the United States (Philadelphia, Chicago, New York) and France (Paris). In Philadelphia, he was part of the soul-funk collective Sound of Liberation with vibraphonist Khan Jamal and guitarist Monnette Sudler; in New York, he was a member of the band Untouchable with Sunny Murray; in Paris, he collaborated with double bassist Didier Levallet, bassist Sylvain Marc and percussionist Keno Speller. In 1979 he recorded a solo album, Personal Testimony, in which he sings, plays alto and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, flutes, piano and percussion.
In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked with Doug Hammond, Kip Hanrahan, Johnny Copeland, Sonny Bradshaw, Odean Pope and many others. He also travelled to Nigeria and Jamaica to teach and collaborate with local musicians.
Deceased in 2012, Byard Lancaster wanted to embrace the full spectrum of African-American music From A Love Supreme To The Sex Machine. A great figure of free jazz, he nourished his music with influences from funk, soul, blues, Caribbean folk, afro-beat and reggae.
Ambassador of Selmer instruments, he played the alto saxophones Mark VII and Tenor Mark VI. "I love Selmer because they are the instruments that have the best pitch, the best sound and the best mechanisms. Also, I'm sentimental about Selmer because Philly Joe Jones gave me his Mark VI tenor sax just before his death."
Photo credit : © Mephisto
From A Love Supreme To The Sex Machine.