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Byron Landham

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In the '90s, Byron "Wookie" Landham came to be recognized as one of the top jazz drummers in Philadelphia, where he has been employed by well-known hard bop and soul-jazz improvisers like organist/trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco and the late organist/pianist Shirley Scott. And Landham also has a fine reputation outside of Philly; the non-Philadelphians who have used him as a sideman range from guitarists Lee Ritenour and Randy Johnston to tenor saxophonist Houston Person. Landham has also been employed by the late vocalist Betty Carter, although that association isn't typical of his résumé -- the adventurous, risk-taking Carter had a reputation for being avant-garde, whereas Landham has focused primarily on hard bop and soul-jazz. Philly is Landham's home town; he was born and raised in the Pennsylvania city where he began playing the drums at the age of seven. Landham was still a student at Olney High School (in the city's Olney section) when, at 17, he was hired to play some live gigs with Shirley Scott. By the time he was old enough to vote, the drummer had played quite a few club gigs in and around Philly. Landham considered Scott a mentor, and he felt the way same way about three Philly-based drummers who influenced his playing: Mickey Roker, Bobby Durham, and Butch Ballard. That isn't to say that every drummer who influenced Landham lived in Philly; other drummers who had an impact on his playing included Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Kenny Clarke (among others). In the '90s, Landham became a fixture in Philly jazz venues (especially a club called Ortlieb's Jazzhaus) and often played alongside people who were highly regarded in that city -- including trumpeter John Swana, pianists Orrin Evans and Sid Simmons, organist Papa John DeFrancesco (Joey DeFrancesco's father), and veteran tenor saxophonist Bootsie Barnes (who commands a devoted following in Philly but isn't well-known outside the city). Another musician Landham has played with extensively is Joey DeFrancesco, who employed the drummer on several of his albums in the '90s and early 2000s. It was also during the '90s that Landham's reputation spread way beyond Philly, resulting in appearances on albums by Houston Person, tenor saxman Ron Holloway, guitarist Russell Malone, and others. In 1998, Landham and his brother Robert Landham (an alto saxophonist) recorded an album as the Landham Brothers: At Last was released on the Straight Street label. Landham was still based in Philly in the early 2000s, but by that point, his playing was so in-demand that he was spending an average of four to five months on the road every year. ~ Alex Henderson

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