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Jazz Guitarist Tom Byrne Opens, Headlines Benefit Concert Sunday in St. Charles

The concert, which runs 2-6 p.m. at the Original Sharky's On the River, benefits jazz station WSIE 88.7 FM.

Jazz guitarist Tom Byrne will be the opening act and the headliner during the second annual benefit concert for jazz station WSIE 88.7 FM 2-6 p.m. Sunday at the Original Sharky’s On The River in St. Charles.

Byrne, an adjunct professor at Webster University when he isn’t performing, said he is proud to be part of the benefit performance.

"We’re glad to be doing this," he said, speaking for his fellow performers. "WSIE is the only full-time jazz station in St. Louis. So it’s really a great cause, and we’re really happy to be supporting it."

Greg Conroy, director and general manager at WSIE, is equally pleased that Byrne will be such a big part of the show.

"He’s a good man, and a good friend to WSIE," Conroy said.

The concert, which raised about $2,000 last year, will benefit the WSIE development fund.

"There’s always some need for equipment here and there," Conroy said.

Byrne will kick things off with vocalist Erika Johnson, a longtime collaborator.

"We used to work together quite a bit, so we have a lot of repertoire under our belts," Byrne said. "She’s a great singer."

The nice thing about having a history with another performer is being able to wing it on stage.

"We don’t have it planned just yet," he said. "We have so much to draw from. I’m sure it’ll be some jazz standards. She likes to do a few R&B things. She even likes to do whimsical tunes."

Whimsical?

"She likes to do Spiderman. Yes, the theme from the TV show. That’s kind of a whimsical tune, I guess," Byrne said. "The first time she brought that in, I thought, ‘What are you talking about?’ But it works out pretty well. It has a little bit of a jazz feel to it."

Their duet will cover the first 45 minutes of the concert, followed by the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Jazz Combo. Then Byrne returns with Have U Heard, his jazz combo. In addition to Byrne on guitar, the group includes keyboardist Mike Carosello, Chris Watrous on bass and drummer Ron Carr. It’s a solid, experienced group.

"I go way back with all of them," Byrne said.

The combo plays jazz standards, jazz fusion and a lot of the music of jazz guitarist and composerPat Metheny. They even took their name from the title of one of his songs.

"He’s amazing, and he’s quite a great composer," Byrne said.

The idea to become sort of a Pat Metheny tribute group formed from a concert Byrne did at Webster University.

"On this one particular occasion, I guess it was back in 2006 or so, I did a concert of his music, and people loved it," Byrne said. "It was very well-received. Ever since that, I’ve thought, ‘I should do something with that, maybe go public with it.’ It definitely does pay tribute to his music, because we do a pretty good selection of his stuff. But that’s not all we do."

Metheny’s tunes can be a stepping off point.

"I like to take his music, on several of them, and do something a little different than what he did with them," he said. "Which he kind of encourages."

In "The Pat Metheny Songbook," which Byrne said is "really thick," the composer "talks about wanting people to perform his music and do their own thing with it. I took him at his word. A few of the tunes," he said, chuckling, "we do considerably differently."

Which is really the essence of jazz anyway.

"It’s about improvisation, and interpretation," he said.

Like many guitar players, Byrne started out playing blues and rock 'n' roll at age 12.

"But it wasn’t too long thereafter that I got into jazz," he said. "I really got into it when I was about 16 or 17 years old. I heard some jazz, and it just really fascinated me. It was just so different. I was really intrigued by it. One of the first albums I had was a George Benson album. It kind of blew my mind. And it still does, really. He’s an amazing guitar player. So I’ve been interested in jazz for a long time. But at the same time, I’ve played in bands that played blues and rock and R&B, Motown tunes, all that sort of thing. So I like all kinds of music."

That's what makes him a good candidate to play the music of Metheny.

"That’s one of the things I love about Pat’s music, is he incorporates different elements in his writing," Byrne said. "You can hear real strong Brazilian influences—especially that ‘Secret Story’ album had a lot of Brazilian influences. And quite a few of his other albums do as well. And then some of his songs have kind of an American folk sound to them—I guess you’d call it Americana. He has that element going in there. He definitely has straight-ahead jazz elements in his music. So it’s kind of cool. I can explore different styles, even though it’s labeled as jazz. It goes beyond just straight-ahead jazz."

Byrne likes performing live.

"It’s just good for my soul," he said. "Playing and performing is almost therapeutic. But I also like to communicate and share with an audience. It’s just really fantastic when I can feel that connection, that people are really getting something from it, and getting into it. There's definitely that element—kind of a synergy with the audience when things are going well. It’s pretty amazing."

Byrne also enjoys the camaraderie of the group.

"When the group is really clicking some things are happening musically that really couldn’t happen if I was just sitting at home practicing," he said. "It’s just a whole different thing when you get that communication going within the band. It’s kind of like the sum is greater than the individual parts, when a band is really communicating and going somewhere together. That’s a great experience."

Byrne, who has released a CD called Beyond Tomorrow, is also looking forward to a fantastic fall day at Sharky’s.

"As long as the weather cooperates, we’re out on that deck, and boy, it’s just beautiful," he said. "The Mississippi River is directly behind us, it’s all woods out there. Woods and water. It’s beautiful."

Suggested donation for the performance at Sharkey’s is $20 per person. Sharky’s is at 601 North Shore Dr., St. Charles, 63301. Click here for directions.

Byrne and his group can be heard 8-11 p.m. the first Monday of each month at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups in downtown St. Louis. On Nov. 10, the group will perform with vocalist Ralph Butler at the newly renovated Wildey Theater in Edwardsville.

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