Donald Byron (born November 8, 1958) is an American composer and multi-instrumentalist. He primarily plays clarinet but has also played bass clarinet and saxophone in a variety of genres that includes free jazz and klezmer.
His mother was a pianist. His father worked as a mailman and played bass in calypso bands. Byron listened to Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis while growing up, but he was exposed to other styles through trips to the ballet and symphony orchestra. When he was a child, he had asthma, and a doctor recommended playing an instrument to improve his breathing. This was why he started playing clarinet. He grew up in the South Bronx among many Jewish neighbors who sparked an interest in klezmer. Other influences include Joe Henderson, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Hamilton, and Tony Scott. In he teens he took clarinet lessons from Joe Allard. George Russell was one of his teachers at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. At the school he was a member of Klezmer Conservatory Band led by Hankus Netsky. In the 1980s he moved to New York City where he played with avant-garde jazz musicians such as Hamiet Bluiett, Craig Harris, and David Murray.
Byron is a member of the Black Rock Coalition. In 2001, he performed “Bli Blip” for the Red Hot Organization‘s compilation album Red Hot + Indigo, a tribute to Duke Ellington which raised money for charities devoted to increasing AIDS awareness and fighting the disease. He has recorded with Bill Frisell, Joe Henry, Marc Ribot, Vernon Reid, and Allen Toussaint.