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Obituaries

Joe Byrd, 78; jazz musician who collaborated with brother

byrd family collection/washington post

From left, Stan Getz, Joe Byrd, and Charlie Byrd during recording sessions for “Jazz Samba.’’

WASHINGTON - Joe Byrd, a bassist who was best known for collaborations with his guitarist brother Charlie and who helped introduce bossa-nova-inflected jazz to the United States, died Tuesday at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Maryland from injuries in a car accident that day.

Mr. Byrd, 78, also played guitar and was billed early in his career under his given name, Gene. He was the youngest of four musical brothers who grew up in Virginia’s Tidewater region. They drew national attention and acclaim for “Jazz Samba,’’ which showcased the jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and was recorded in 1962 at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Washington.

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Charlie Byrd got top billing with Getz on “Jazz Samba.’’ But supporting players, including Joe Byrd on rhythm guitar, were crucial to the understated melodic expressiveness of the recording and to capturing a delicate but rhythmically thrilling soulfulness of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado’’ and “One Note Samba,’’ among other songs.

“Jazz Samba’’ had enduring commercial success, appearing at the moment when “bossa nova was starting to percolate,’’ said author James Gavin, who wrote extensively on jazz.

Charlie Byrd first was exposed to the burgeoning bossa nova style of jazz on a musical tour of Latin America in 1961.

“Jazz Samba’’ remains the only jazz album to reach number one on the Billboard pop chart, according to JazzTimes magazine. It helped spur an entire subgenre of jazz featuring some of the leading entertainers of the era, including Peggy Lee, George Shearing, and Sonny Rollins.

Joe Byrd worked steadily with his brother for the next four decades, seldom in the foreground. They made international trips as goodwill ambassadors for the State Department. They performed for presidents at the White House and at local clubs.

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Mr. Byrd was a staple of the Charlie Byrd Trio, along with Chuck Redd on drums and vibraphone. Mr. Byrd and Redd also played in the touring group Great Guitars with his brother and jazz guitar virtuosos Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis, and Tal Farlow.

Besides his work for his brother, Mr. Byrd also backed visiting musicians on Washington-area club dates, including saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, pianist Mose Allison, and singer Jimmy Witherspoon. After his brother’s death in 1999, at 74, Joe Byrd led his own trio and recorded several albums, including “Basically Blues’’ and “Brazilian Nights.’’

Gene Herbert Byrd was born in Chuckatuck, Va.

After serving in the Army, Mr. Byrd enrolled at the Peabody conservatory in Baltimore on the GI Bill. In 1962, he graduated with a degree in double bass and a teaching certificate.

Mr. Byrd, an Edgewater, Md., resident who had retired from performing a few years ago, was running an errand when he was fatally injured. According to Anne Arundel County police, he had a green light to turn left when another vehicle ran through a red traffic signal and struck Mr. Byrd’s car. The other driver was uninjured. The crash is under investigation.

In 1977, he married Elana Rhodes, a lawyer. Besides his wife, he leaves a stepson, Jeffrey House of Washington; and a brother, Jack Byrd of Suffolk, Va.

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