Clarinetist Don Byron Brings More Than Jazz To Denver’s Metro State

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<p>(Stephanie Wolf/CPR News)</p>
<p>Award-winning clarinetist and composer Don Byron</p>
Photo: Don Byron, award-winning clarinetist and composer, head shot
Award-winning clarinetist and composer Don Bryon

As an African-American musician, Don Byron says people tried to push him towards jazz. He does play jazz music -- and he plays it well. But the award-winning clarinetist and composer prefers not to be defined by a single genre. Byron has written music for ensembles, films, opera and dance, blending jazz sounds with everything from hip hop to Klezmer and gospel. Born and raised in the Bronx, N.Y., Byron relocated to Denver recently. He's the newest faculty member of the Department of Music at Metro State University.

Byron spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. Highlights from the conversation are below. Click on the audio above to listen to the full interview.

Byron on his early musical influences -- film and television scores

"I really think a lot about the film and television music that I heard. [Composers] Leonard Rosenman and Lalo Schifrin would be some of the earliest serious things that I really listened to for pleasure. With Lalo... for me I love 'Kelly's Heroes.' ... It's almost like an out-of-tune trombone fanfare."

On why he started playing the clarinet

"I've had asthma pretty much since I was 4 or 5 years old. So I'm going to the doctor and my parents are saying, 'Well what can we do?' [The doctor's] two answers were swimming -- not such a strong option for black folks -- or playing a wind instrument. I had an uncle... he played real clarinet when he was young. And there was a wooden clarinet my grandmother was holding on to. So I ended up on clarinet."

On what he's listening to right now

"Kirk Franklin: [he's] a gospel musician from Texas whose music I've studied and followed for quite awhile."