Winston Byrd has made a career out of drawing on many different styles including classical, blues, pop, jazz and improvisation. One of Winston’s big breaks at a young age was to become a member of the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, and he has gone on to have a career working with a ‘who’s who’ of the music business.
Derek Saidak at Legends Brass has very kindly put me in touch with Winston so that we can learn more!…
What drew you to the trumpet as a child?
Well… It was a combination of things. I first saw Dizzy Gillespie on The Tonight Show, then I saw Chuck Mangione on Don Kirshner’s Midnight Special, and the one that sealed the deal was seeing and hearing Alan Rubin, in The Blues Brothers. It was seeing all these great men, doing what they do, that lit the fire under me, so by the time I got to the point in elementary school, where they ask you, “What do YOU want to play?”, it was a done deal.
Did you have any particular early musical influences or heroes?
PLENTY!!! Of course, John Birks ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie, that’s where we’ll start, because be it, The Tonight Show, Sesame Street, etc… because when I was a kid, he was everywhere and to a child, his trumpet just had your attention… It was the coolest thing to me. It didn’t look like everyone else’s trumpet, and that’s what made Dizzy so cool to me… He was an individual and unique, no on equaled him!
As I went on, I would check people out, and I would say, going forth, Jon Faddis, who not only is a hero to me, but also a friend and mentor. I never got to meet Dizzy, because right when I was about to get on the scene, he had passed by then, but being around Jon is being around Dizzy’s spirit and I’d like to say that I did meet Dizzy through Jon.
Clark Terry… who really helped EVERYBODY and took a liking to me when I was a teenager.
He too was basically family! He and my Dad would have a drink together, when ever I had a gig with him. He was so good to me and my family. I spoke with him, two days before his passing and he asked about my Mom, Dad and Brother… Brings tears to my eyes thinking about it… He was my friend, my musical grandpa and my hero…
Randy Brecker, who’s style is like no one else and his approach to improvisation, has always stuck with me. I just love the way Randy thinks! Don Ellis, who made me learn different time signatures (which made it easier because I’m a drummer as well!), Lew Soloff, cause he could play just about anything. I particularly like to go back in history and check out the elders, A LOT, like Roy Eldridge, Charlie Shavers, Joe Newman, Joe Wilder… Those gentlemen were beyond incredible and really did pave the way for us generations to come.
Can you pick out a few career highlights to date?
Oh… let’s see… There’s the 27 years of traveling the world, the TV stuff, here, there and abroad, the movies I’ve played on, played for Her Majesty, The Queen, last summer… John, I can hardly keep up with myself and to be honest, when I conquer one mountain, I’m usually sprinting down the downgrade of it to take on the next one that I’m about to climb. I never rest on my laurels and I’m ALWAYS up for the next challenge/adventure, whatever it is, but to list them all here… We’d need a MUCH bigger interview!
What projects have you got coming up?
Well, I’m in the middle of my fourth album and this is a special one, because as I said above, I’m always looking for the next challenge. I wish I could say more about it, but around the camp, “Mums” the word, but I can assure you, it’s going to surprise EVERYBODY!!!
As a top performer, are there any particular routines that you follow to keep yourself in good shape for performance? How do keep on top of your trumpet playing, particularly while you are travelling?
For one thing, it was vigorously exciting to be hitting the road at 17, now I’m 45 and you HAVE to take care of yourself, if you want to continue the longevity of your craft.
1.) REST!!!!! You gotta get rest on the road! It never hurts to hang out, here and there, but you have to remember, this instrument is just as physical as a sport, so proper rest is a must!
2.) Warm-Up… I don’t care how old or young you are, again, this is a physical instrument that combines cardio and muscular activities. If you don’t warm up, one day IT WILL catch up with you! Doc Severinsen is in his 90’s and he’s does a long warm up! Whether you take an hour (I do an hour to ninety minutes) or 4 or whatever, you gotta warm up!!!!!
3.) Listen… Listen to music at every chance. Doesn’t matter what genre, keep music in your ear. When I’m on the road, I got volumes to choose from. If I can’t get too much practice done in travels, I’m listening and within that listening, my brain is inhaling all those licks, patterns and nuances that are definitely gonna come out in my playing. My mind is a steel trap, John!
4.) Relax… When I’m on the road for long periods of time, I try to work in a golf game or two. Now, I’ll be the first to say, I ain’t that great at the game, but I enjoy for the scenery, the peacefulness and it takes my mind off the music, so that when I go back to it, it’s all fresh and new to me… (I’m not admitting any past golf scores, either…)
5.) Have fun… John, I have MAJOR fun out on the road. Life is too short to deal with mess. There’s a whole world that’s beautiful and exciting out here to see, and I’m thankful to God that He’s given me the opportunity to see all the sides of His Wonderful Creation, Our Planet. The different people, creeds, colors, religions, foods, cultures, etc… I really enjoy going to other places and partaking into THEIR culture, rather staying within mine, in a foreign country…
I tell young musicians ALL the time… I was 17 when I had my chance, and if you get yours…
SEE THE WORLD!!!!
Can you tell us a little about the current relationships that you have with manufacturers? What was the process like, working with Legends Brass on new mouthpieces?
My relationships are just like family…
The longest relationship out of all my endorsements, is Cannonball Musical Instruments. Tevis and Sheryl Laukat are my ‘second in command’ parents, when my own parents can’t make it to an event or something, that’s how close we are and I love them dearly, and Derek Saidak is like my big brother, who takes very special care of me!
Working with Derek… He’s a smart guy! He knows his stuff on mouthpieces and he’s a very fine player himself! I don’t get to Tennessee as much as I’d like to, but I’m gonna get there more now, as my schedule is taking me there, in the near future, but I say that to say this…
Derek is so knowledgeable and on top of his game, that, when I want to make a change or alter anything within my own line of mouthpieces, he can do it with just my explaining it to him over the phone! That’s how genius this guy is, and I am mighty, mighty proud to be playing his mouthpieces, because they are that great AND MORE!!!!!
Have I forgotten anything?! Is there anything else?!
I’d just like to say Thank You and that it was an honor and a pleasure to talk with you, John! I hope we get to do it again sometime soon!
To find out more about Winston Byrd including current projects and recordings, visit www.winstonbyrd.com
The Legends Brass mouthpieces that Winston plays on can be viewed here