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Grammy nominee clarinetist Don Byron is MLK Visiting Prof

2007-2008 MLK Visiting Professor Don Byron
2007-2008 MLK Visiting Professor Don Byron
Photo / Cori Wells Braun
A multi-talented musician, Don Byron is known for exploring and redefining musical genres.
A multi-talented musician, Don Byron is known for exploring and redefining musical genres.
Photo / Till Krautkraemer

Composer and clarinetist Don Byron, who has explored and redefined musical styles from klezmer to hip-hop and every known form of jazz, has been appointed a Martin Luther King Jr. Visting Professor, the first full-year MLK appointment in music and theater arts.

"We're all very excited about having an artist of this stature, talent and enthusiasm join us," said Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Music Evan Ziporyn, who has performed with Byron with the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Byron is a "Grammy-nominated musician with a wealth of knowledge and playing experience that ranges from straight ahead jazz through American musical theater into concert music."

Byron visited MIT in March 2005; he performed with poet Paul Auster and the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble in a program titled, "Words and Music and Other Sonic Collaborations."

"I am the kind of musician who figures out how things work, and in an environment like MIT, one finds students who can do a lot with that kind of information," Byron said. "I can't wait to get started."

While on campus with MIT's music and theater arts section in the 2007-2008 academic year, Byron will teach a course on improvisation and coach a rock/funk chamber ensemble, as well as perform with faculty and students.

A native of Bronx, N.Y., Byron was exposed to a breadth of musical genres at an early age. His father, a mailman, was a bassist who played jazz and calypso music, and his mother was a pianist. The young Byron attended symphony and ballet performances and spent hours listening to recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Machito. He graduated from the New England Conservatory in 1984 where he expanded his jazz and classical repertoire as an original member of the Klezmer Conservatory Band.

Byron was named Jazz Artist of the Year by Down Beat magazine in 1992 and his tenor saxophone recording, "Ivey-Divey" (Blue Note, 2004), with pianist Jason Moran and drummer Jack DeJohnette, was nominated for a Grammy and voted Album of the Year by Jazz Times magazine in 2004.

Currently a visiting professor at the State University of New York at Albany, Byron teaches theory, saxophone, improvisation and composition. As recipient of a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship, he is writing a chamber opera based on Laura Z. Hobson's 1946 novel, "Gentleman's Agreement," in which a reporter investigates anti-Semitism by pretending to be Jewish. In Byron's version, the reporter is black, his partner is Jewish, and the opera will be about white-on-black racism, as experienced by a biracial couple.

For information on working with Byron or on signing up for his courses or workshops, MIT students can e-mail Ziporyn at

The Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professors Program, established in 1995 through the efforts of the Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee, appoints participants for their contributions to their professions and their potential contributions to the intellectual life of MIT. The program, which supports six to 12 visiting professors and scholars in each academic year, is open to individuals of any minority group, with an emphasis on the appointment of blacks.

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