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Posted at 10:41 AM ET, 03/07/2012

Prominent jazz musician Joe Byrd dies in Md. crash


Joe Byrd performs in Annapolis in 2003. (Craig Herndon - For The Washington Post)
Jazz guitarist and bassist Joe Byrd, who helped popularize bossa nova music in the United States in the 1960s, died in a Tuesday afternoon crash in Edgewater, police said.

Gene Hebert Byrd, commonly known as Joe, was 78. His death was confirmed by his stepson, Jeffrey House.

Byrd was born May 21, 1933, in Chuckatuck, in Virginia’s Tidewater region. After Army service, he studied music at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore on the G.I. Bill.

In 1977, he married Elana Rhodes, a lawyer. Besides his wife, of Edgewater, other survivors include a brother, Jack Byrd of Suffolk, Va.

He played with many jazz greats — including his guitarist brother Charlie. In 1961, Charlie Byrd went on a State Department-sponsored tour of South America, where he and his band heard bossa nova, the gently infectious music that had come to prominence with the 1959 Brazilian film “Black Orpheus.”

Taken by the sound, Charlie Byrd began to put together a band that ultimately included Gene Byrd on guitar and bass, Keter Betts on bass, Buddy Deppenschmidt on drums, Bill Reichenbach on drums and percussion and saxophone superstar Stan Getz.

On the night of Feb. 13, 1962, the six musicians gathered in a fellowship hall at All Souls Unitarian Church at 16th and Harvard streets NW. The album they produced that night, “Jazz Samba,” became an instant hit.

It stayed on the charts for 70 weeks, reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart and “set the ‘60s bossa nova craze in motion,” in the words of a 2004 Jazz Times article.

“I’m the luckiest guy alive,” reads a quote on his Web site. “ I’ve had a wonderful 40-year career and have made a living playing the music I love best!”

Police said Byrd died after a GMC Yukon drove through a red light and hit his Volvo station wagon as he turned in an intersection shortly before 3 p.m.

Byrd, who lived in Edgewater, was taken to a hospital, where he died. The Yukon’s driver, a 27-year-old Lothian man, who stayed at the scene, was not hurt, according to police.

No charges have been filed. Police continue to investigate.

This item has been updated.

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By Washington Post Staff  |  10:41 AM ET, 03/07/2012

 
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