Do, Ra Me, Fa, So, La… Keith Byrd!
By Ron Eldridge
A child prodigy – an old musical soul in a boy body – would best describe the young Keith Byrd. A spirited self-taught piano performer. Playing in church in the youth choir in the 3rd grade.
Call it a divine intervention from the good Man above, but here’s a funny story: When Keith was around 13 years young, his mother paid for piano lessons. As Byrd recalls, “I found this experience very boring, for everything she was presenting me I was playing by ear. So, I was handed some sheet music. The teacher played first, then I followed playing the same thing. I was told that was not the same music on the sheet. It was then suggested that my mother stop wasting her money on my learning the piano!
My musical interest was expanding along with my focus on other instruments. My first love was the bongos, followed by the piano, organ, guitar, bass, and in college my focus was the trombone.”
While in college, Keith studied under Dr. Winston Bell at Winston-Salem State University. Though he studied under other music masters such as Charles Burns, Grady Edgars, Bob Smith, Dr. Fred Tanner and Bill Bright, it was not until he studied under Bill that Byrd was propelled into the world of jazz. While cutting his musical teeth on gospel, R&B, funk, and fusion jazz, Keith added his personal musical signature to the music of his heart.
What is Keith’s signature? “Take the piano: when the hammer strikes the strings, it resonates; its pure vibe against the sound board is equivalent to playing a giant guitar. The way you touch the keys, you can run from a low note to a high note with proficiency and flow … that is where your signature comes from.”
Keith found success in Switzerland back in 1993-96 playing various piano bars until he connected with Delta Blues man Theodis Ealey. Theodis told Keith, “You’re good, but you don’t know the blues.” It was under his guidance that Keith grew his “liquor house” roots. Remember Bo Williams? When Bo was a star search winner, Keith’s band was the backup band. Barbra Weathers of Atlantic Star fame had Keith as a backup pianist.
There were other regional bands that made local fame such as Frynz, The Mirrors Band, and Sweet Dreams. Keeping focus on his sacred roots has been a part of Keith’s DNA, since currently he is the musical director of Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church choir, playing contemporary Christian music and putting his scared signature to the gospel.
As for musical productions, there have been two completed CD projects: “Keith Byrd Live” and “Transition.” His third project is coming soon, but no name has been selected yet. I will let you in on a little secret: be prepared for his best work yet. His newest project will be a mixture of funk and fusion with a surprise twist. Look out world! DO, RA, ME, FA, SO, LA, KEITH BYRD!
Ron Big “E” Eldridge is a Winston-Salem resident and freelance writer who frequently pens a Music Corner column about the local jazz and music scene.
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