Charlie Byrd’s key role in bringing bossa nova to the United States, multiple big name mentors and his finger-picking style made for a truly unique legacy


Throughout his life American guitarist Charlie Byrd would visit many places and learn from different mentors but it was his faithful tour of South America that would have the greatest impact on his career and the music of his homeland. As a member of the trio most responsible for bringing bossa nova to the United States, he will forever have a special place in the heart of Jazz and bossa nova fans around the world.

Charlie Byrd+bossa nova

Charlie Byrd

Virginia was his birth place and it was here that his father, his first teacher, would introduce him to the guitar. He played in his school orchestra but his time in the United states was cut short when he was drafted into the United States Army during World War II. Despite his duties, he still found time to sharpen his skills as a guitar player. It was in France where he was awarrded the opportunity to meet and perform alongside his biggest influence, Gypsy guitar player, Django Reinhardt.

After the war he moved across the US and even spent time in Italy. In each location he was under the tutelage of renowned guitar players of the time such as Sophocles Papas and Andrés Segovia. While in Washington he decided to seriously delve into mastering the classic guitar. It would prove to be  a decision that would affect his playing style and sound for the rest of his career.

Jazz Samba Session+cha

Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd (extreme right) during a Jazz Samba session

In 1961, he went on a diplomatic tour of Brazil and from there absorbed the new musical sensation, bossa nova. Shortly after returning to the United States he got in contact with Creed Taylor and Stan Getz and exposed them to the sound he learned in South America. Mesmerized by what they had heard, they left New York for Washington and began to record what would later be titled by Taylor as “Jazz Samba.”

The album would go onto to exceed the expectations of all involved. It remained on the pop billboard charts for several weeks and even reached number one. The success of this album began the bossa craze of the 1960’s that spread across the whole country and the rest is history.

Jazz Samba + bossa nova

Jazz Samba

Byrd would go on to release more bossa nova material such as “Bossa Nova Pelos Passaros,” “Once More! Charlie Byrd’s Bossa Nova” and “Brazilian Byrd.”