Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Dear, Thomas A. Dorsey

I spent Saturday afternoon listening to clarinet player Don Byron’s album “Love, Peace, and Soul”. Savoy Jazz released it back in February. Reviving the music of iconic African-American songwriters is one of Byron’s specialties. Lester Young and Junior Walker are icons Byron have honored.

The great thing about Byron is he doesn’t discriminate. Byron seems motivated by any form of music that's challenging to play. He's covered classic soul, the blues and jazz. 

“Love, Peace and Soul” is a gospel jazz album dedicated to you and Rosetta Tharpe. Other than Byron’s original “HIMMM” and Eddie Harris’ “Sham Time,” the album is made up of your landmark gospel songs such as “Highway To Heaven,” “I Got To Live the Life That I Sing About In My Songs,” and “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”.

 Mr. Dorsey, I’ve never been a big fan of gospel music. It makes me too emotional. I’ve heard your gospel songs before, but I didn’t know anything about you until I read  John Murph's cover story in the May issue of JazzTimes Magazine. 

You started as a blues musician, playing rent parties, and your stage name was Georgia Tom. You started exploring gospel music in the 1920's. After your first wife and infant son died within days of each other, you wrote "Take My Hand, Precious Lord".  

 I had Chris, the co-owner of Street Corner Music in Oak Park, MI, order me “Love, Peace, and Soul" a day or so after I read Murph's cover story.

Murph discussed how Bryon has revived your music. Bryon’s current band is the New Gospel Quintet. Piano player, Xavier Davis, bass player Brad Jones, drummer Pheeroan Aklaff and singer DK Dyson (she’s dynamic) are members.

Byron is a kick ass jazz musician, one of the top jazz clarinet players. If Pee Wee Russell and Barney Bigard were alive, they'd go to Byron for pointers. I've  never gotten bored with Byron because he’s  mastered the art of self-reinvention. 

I lost track of Byron after his memorable set at the 2006 Detroit International Jazz Festival. Earlier that year, Blue Note Records released “Do the Boomerang,” Byron’s homage to soul legend Junior Walker.

What better place to test drive the project than in Walker’s hometown. I was worried about Byron’s safety. Detroit soul music fans don’t like outsiders fooling around with their hero’s music. By the fourth song, Byron had the crowd in a frenzy. It’s been six years since that show. I still get goose bumps when I think about it. 

Listening to “Love, Peace, and Soul” I wondered if you appeared in  Byron's dreams and taught him how to handle your music. I also wondered if Byron had doubts the project would  succeed.

Byron didn’t screw up your work. Many jazz musicians have made good gospel jazz albums Mary Lou Williams, Ramsey Lewis, Kirk Whallum, Archie Shepp and Horace Parlance, and Pete Maliverni.

“Love, Peace, And Soul” is successful mainly because of singer DK Dyson. Mr. Dorsey, that woman can sing. Clearly, Dyson learned how to wail in church. I bet she could sing any form of music you put in front of her.

Dyson’s version of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” could make the most ardent sinner change. Her singing and Xavier Davis’ playing on “I’ve Got To Live The Life I Sing About In My Songs” could make the devil scream hallelujah.

Mr. Dorsey, Bryon's only mistake was including Eddie Harris’ number “Sham Time”. It didn’t go with your songs. It was odd like wearing white tube socks with a business suit. Other than that, Byron made a nearly pristine jazz gospel album. If  you don't have a copy, you should track down Byron, and have him send you one.

God bless,

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