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Byard Lancaster, Philadelphia avant-garde jazz legend, Passes Away
  by: iradioal - Philadelphia, PA
started: 08/26/12 6:21 am | updated: 08/26/12 6:21 am
Philadelphia jazz legend Byard Lancaster passed away on Thursday after suffering from pancreatic cancer. Lancaster was a master saxophonist and flautist who performed with many other of his better known jazz contemporaries such as Archie Shepp, Elvin Jones, Sunny Murrary, McCoy Tyner, Khan Jamal and Sun Ra. He traveled the world as an ambassador of free form avant-garde jazz spreading the word of Philadelphia music, but always returned home to perform in the streets, clubs, and subways.

Lancaster was born on August 2, 1942. He attended Germantown High School and played in the school orchestra. He attended Shaw University in NC and Berklee College of Music in Boston. In addition to saxophone and flute, Lancaster played the clarinet and piano. He brought that versatility with him to his performances, sliding effortlessly between genres like funk to avant-garde to straight jazz, just as easily as he could switch instruments.

In the past 10 years, Lancaster took up the cause against SEPTA for street musicians winning the right to play on the concourses. Lancaster enjoyed playing in the subway for the acoustics, the people, and the extra cash, but he was arrested twice for playing in the public space. He sued both times, in 2001 and 2003, and won each time on First Amendment claims. SEPTA changed their policy so that no musician would be arrested just because they are singing or playing an instrument. City Council even backed his cause calling him a “cultural treasure.”

Lancaster was a big proponent of teaching music in schools. Musical education, he believed, was a key to reducing violence in school.

Byard Lancaster's music is part of the fabric of the city of Philadelphia. He will be sorely missed but his legacy and spirit has made an indelible mark on our culture. Lancaster was 70 years old.

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