Manhattan School of Music - B.M.
Manhattan School of Music - M.M.
Chris Byars was born Christopher Lawrence Byars in 1970 in New York City to musical parents Janita Byars (First Clarinet, American Symphony Orchestra) and James Byars (Oboe/English Horn, New York City Ballet Orchestra). In 1983, he adopted jazz as a musical departure from an early career as an opera singer, during which he performed dozens of productions for The New York City Opera and The Metropolitan Opera, including many high-pressure solo roles. Byars earned Bachelor of Music (1990) and Master of Music (jazz studies, performance, 1992) degrees from Manhattan School of Music. Over the course of five decades, Byars has participated in musical productions from behind the scenes, as a sideman, as a leader, as a traveling artist, conductor, educator, arranger, and composer. Byars has traveled to 55 countries representing the Unites States as a Cultural Envoy for music outreach programmed by US Embassies. Chris co-directed recurrent outreach programs in Syria and in Cyprus, with the purpose of healing divisions and building goodwill towards the United States. Byars has carefully balanced attention between works of the past and present. Performing with the quintet Across 7 Street in the 1990s, he regularly premiered new compositions while appearing steadily on Sundaynights at Smalls Jazz Club. Byars has composed five extended works as suites (several movements each), addressing local geographies, musical depictions of biographies, and visual art. The current working band is titled Chris Byars Original Sextet which denotes a departure from material written by others. One decade previous, Byars transcribed, arranged, performed, and recorded tributes to jazz greats Teddy Charles, Freddie Redd, Gigi Gryce, Lucky Thompson, Duke Jordan, Frank Strozier, and Jimmy Cleveland. When possible, these subjects or their families were included as performers or listeners. During the pandemic, Byars continued to arrange and compose, writing Birdography for the NDR Big Band (Hamburg, Germany) and original material for an upcoming 2023 Steeplechase Records release entitled Look Ahead, Byars sought economic refuge within the sphere of civic service, personally interviewing and assisting over 10,000 citizens as a bilingual Contact Tracer for New York City, canvassing the Bronx as a Field Enumerator for the 2020 Decennial Census, and serving as a Spanish Interpreter of NYC Board of Elections. In May 2022, his CD entitled Rhythm and Blues of the 20s was released for Steeplechase, featuring new original compositions and arrangements for the Chris Byars Original Sextet.