Guitarist Charlie Byrd, an ambassador of Brazilian jazz, died Nov. 30 of cancer at his home in Annapolis, Md. He was 74.
Byrd was first impressed with Brazilian music during a State Department-sponsored South American concert tour in 1961. He saw the potential for using the samba rhythm in conjunction with jazz improvisation, and his 1963 collaboration with Stan Getz, “Jazz Samba,” is credited with launching a bossa nova craze in the United States.
During a career that spanned five decades, Byrd recorded more than 100 albums, one as recently as September. Many of those recordings were with his Charlie Byrd Trio, which included his brother, Joe Byrd, on bass.
Byrd grew up in Virginia and learned guitar from his father, a mandolin player. He was inspired to study jazz while stationed in Paris in 1945, and returned to New York to study jazz theory and composition at Harnett National Music School.
He added classical guitar to his repertoire after moving to Washington, D.C., in 1950, and he traveled to Italy in 1954 to study by invitation with the great Spanish classical guitarist Andres Segovia.
In 1997, Byrd was honored as the first Maryland Arts Treasure. This year, he was honored as a Knight of the Rio Branco by the government of Brazil.
Byrd is survived by his wife, Rebecca; two daughters; one granddaughter; and two brothers.