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Jazz Artist Jaki Byard Died of Bullet Wound

A jazz musician who was found dead in his Queens home on Thursday night was killed by a gunshot wound to the head, police said.

Jaki Byard, 76, a prolific pianist who once toured Europe with Charles Mingus, was killed by a single bullet that entered through his nose, the New York City Medical Examiner said on Friday.

Paramedics, responding to a 911 call, found Mr. Byard dead at 11:45 PM at the home on Hollis Avenue that he shared with two of his daughters, the police said.

Investigators said he was last seen by his family at 6 PM on Thursday and that he was killed about four hours later. Detective Joseph Pentangelo, a Police Department spokesman, said no weapon had been recovered and that investigators had no motive or suspects in the slaying. There were no signs of robbery, forced entry or a struggle, Detective Pentangelo said.

One of the jazz world's most enduring and eclectic musicians, Mr. Byard played as recently as two weeks ago at a club in Boston. He was best known for his unabashed mixing of styles and a witty stage presence that charmed audiences. He recently recorded a compact disc with the musician Michael Marcus, to be released in March.

Writing in The New York Times in 1989, Peter Watrous called Mr. Byard "one of jazz's great surrealists, a comic who hasn't a moment's fear of disturbing the sanity of the performance." Mr. Byard could carelessly switch from bebop to swing to funk.

In the 1960's, he frequently collaborated with Charles Mingus, Charlie Mariano, Booker Ervin and Don Ellis. In the 1970's his big band, the Apollo Stompers, was a regular on the Greenwich Village jazz circuit.

A woman who answered the phone at Mr. Byard's home last night said that the family was too upset to talk. "We're all just in a state of shock right now," she said.

Previously Published in the New York Times (Sunday, Feb. 14, 1999 p. 44)

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jaki Byard
  • Event Date: 2/14/1999
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