Philadelphia has lost a famed jazz musician.
Byard Lancaster died of pancreatic cancer Aug. 23, 2012, at Keystone Care in Wyndmoor. He was 70.
While he played the alto, soprano and tenor saxophones and the clarinet and the piano, he had a special love for the flute.
“He loved music since he was a little toddler. He loved being able to walk around with his flute like it (was) another appendage. That flute went with him everywhere,” said his sister, Mary Ann Lancaster Tyler.
“Everything he did was to remind people how important music was to our life — like breathing.”
He served as an international ambassador of Philly’s jazz scene but he always returned home to play saxophone and flute on the streets, at clubs around the city and in subway concourses.
Lancaster took up the cause against SEPTA for street musicians winning the right to play on the concourses. He was arrested twice for playing in SEPTA concourses. 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.
He spent the last 10 years promoting other jazz artists and ensuring they had the chance to be heard. He performed with jazz contemporaries such as Archie Shepp, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Sunny Murray and Sun Ra.
He promoted local artists at venues such as the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival in Jamaica and in other countries such as Paris and London. He was also known for performing at the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival. He performed for former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush.
On February 25, Lisa Chavous and Philadelphia Blues Messengers paid tribute to Lancaster for his work in promoting Philly jazz and blues. In February, City Council cited Lancaster for “his many years of loyalty and dedication to the music industry,” and noted that “he fought publicly for the rights of Philadelphia’s street musicians.”
Odean Pope, a fellow musician and longtime friend, referred to Lancaster as “one of the best musical minds that this country has ever produced.”
Pope said that Lancaster took a special interest in working with young people. He was working on a book geared towards helping steer young people in the right direction.
“He was a very special man, there’s no other way to put it. It’s a great loss not only to the community but to the arts because he shed so much life on the arts,” Pope added.
Lancaster was an advocate for music education. Lancaster Tyler says when music was taken out of public schools, her brother felt that the temperament of the schools were not what they should be.
He was a longtime resident of East Mount Airy. Lancaster Tyler said bassist Stanley Clarke who lived in the neighborhood, was one of several musicians her brother influenced.
“His door was always open to musicians,” says Lancaster Tyler.
Lancaster was born Aug. 2, 1942, to Wilbert C. and Minerva Ann Lancaster. He graduated from Germantown High School and played in the school orchestra. He attended Shaw University in North Carolina and Berklee College of Music in Boston.
In addition to his sister, Lancaster is survived by his children, Raquel Phelps, Brian, Marianne, Alicia Lancaster-Silva, Cash Byard Lancaster and Faythallegra Coleman; and a brother.
Services will be private. A celebration of Lancaster’s life will be held October 27 at 12 p.m. at LaRose Jazz Club, 5531 Germantown Avenue.