When I'm in Europe flipping through the jazz selections at music stores I am always a little amazed at the number of CDs featuring Don Byas. The great tenor saxophonist, rival of Coleman Hawkins and inspiration for Sonny Rollins, among other things, went off to Europe after World War II and decided to stay. As a result, we rarely hear about him in the U.S.
So when I saw "A Night in Tunisia," 1201 Music, for $11.99 other other day at my favorite local bookstore Pages for All Ages (and CDs, too) I didn't hesitate. The 1963 session is actually a night in Copenhagen, with excellent Danish pianist Bent Axen and the wonderful bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, in his teens at the time. Byas, who could command the tenor like an alto, opens with an unusual fast-paced bopped version of "I'll Remember April," gives Charlie Parker a run for his money on "Anthropology," displays some of the stuff Mr. Rollins must have been impressed by on "Lady Bird" (a highlight) and performs "Yesterdays" as kind of a power ballad (Axen does an impressive job of matching his approach). Leaves me with a serious jones for more Don Byas.