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The beat goes on

Peabody rededicates hall in honor of jazz legend Joe Byrd
Posted February 7, 2014
Joe and Elana Byrd in 2006 when they opened the Jazz at the Powerhouse series in Annapolis. Joe and Elana Byrd in 2006 when they opened the Jazz at the Powerhouse series in Annapolis.

When Peabody’s East Hall is filled with the sounds of the Peabody Jazz Orchestra on February 28, the institute will also be paying tribute to one of its own – legendary bassist and alumnus Joe Byrd.   That evening, the performance space that serves as the home to the jazz studies program at Peabody will be rededicated as Joe Byrd Hall in honor of the jazz great.

“This was Joe’s idea,” says Elana Byrd, of her husband who tragically passed away during a traffic collision in 2012.  “He was so grateful for the education he received at Peabody, that when we talked about our wills, he wanted to be sure to benefit Peabody.” In addition to the naming of Byrd Hall, their support of Peabody has surpassed $1 million and has also established the Joe Byrd Scholarship in Jazz Studies. Joe was a scholarship recipient himself and wanted to pass that along to another generation.  “He understood the impact a gift like that can make,” says Elana, who through her documented estate bequest is a member of the Johns Hopkins Legacy Society.

Joe was the youngest of four musical brothers who grew up in Virginia’s Tidewater region.   He graduated from Peabody in 1962 and rose to fame with the release of “Jazz Samba” that same year, a seminal album featuring his guitarist brother Charlie and saxophonist Stan Getz.  “Jazz Samba” reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart.  He worked steadily with Charlie making international trips as goodwill ambassadors for the State Department. They performed for presidents at the White House and for royalty and audiences worldwide. 

As a family, the Byrd’s have strong philanthropic ties to Peabody. When Charlie passed away in 1999, they established the Charlie Byrd Endowed Scholarship in Guitar and gave the school a collection of Charlie’s sheet music and personal correspondence.  “It was a lifetime of musical treasures,” says Elana of the collection she helped to organize along with her sister-in-law Rebecca Byrd. “I found compositions from Brazilian and South American composers, classical artists, and scores by their friend Tommie Newsom, along with Charlie’s own arrangements.” 

Elana, who is a practicing attorney in the Annapolis area, continues to run the Joe Byrd Jazz series, the 40-year old showcase that brings major jazz performers to Annapolis.  She makes it a special point to bring well-known artists from the series to Peabody when they are in town.  “For young jazz musicians, it can be expensive to run around to various clubs and hear musicians live.  When the musicians meet with students for a workshop, the students are able to learn about more than just the musical technique.  They learn about life on the road and the finances of playing jazz,” she says. “It is important to make those connections and I hope that I will inspire others to do the same.”

Directed by Michael Formanek, the Peabody Jazz Orchestra concert at 7:30 pm on February 28 will feature an evening of Brazilian music including works by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Clare Fischer.  Tickets are available through the Peabody Box Office at 410-234-4800.