Lawrence's Clyde Bysom has spent a lifetime making music, both in the city and around the world.
Seven decades after he started, Clyde Bysom is still playing music in South Park.
In the 1920s, Bysom used to listen to a Kansas University student play his clarinet across from Bysom's home on Kentucky. The sound enchanted him. He began taking clarinet lessons in the fifth grade and joined the Lawrence Boys' Band.
"I probably did my first concert (in South Park) 70 years ago with the boys' band," he said.
He hasn't stopped performing since.
"It's just nice to make music and play for people," Bysom said. "I'm a ham, I guess."
His affair with performing music began as a child with the clarinet, but he also plays the saxophone.
He picked it up in high school. A neighbor loaned him an alto saxophone; he took it apart, cleaned it and rebuilt it.
"I played it for three or four months and then I was hooked on saxophone," he said. The saxophone was more of a dance-band instrument, he said, and he liked playing in dance bands.
Over the years, he has played both instruments in jazz bands, swing bands and big bands -- and still does. These days, though, he said he favors the clarinet.
"I'm getting older and lazier, and the saxophone is kind of heavy," he said.
Bysom, 81, was playing with the Lawrence City Band Wednesday night at the William L. Kelly Bandstand in South Park.
"Clyde just simply likes to play music," said the city band director, Robert Foster. "He plays Dixieland if they need Dixieland, he plays jazz if they want jazz, and if it's a concert band, he'll play that. He's a real professional musician."
Dozens of bands through the years
Bysom also plays in the Olathe City Band, John Weatherwax and the Junk Yard Jazz, the New Horizon Band, a clarinet quintet and a saxophone quintet.
"Once in a while, I play with the Kansas City groups," he said.
Nearly every day of the week, he can be found with a woodwind reed in his mouth; playing a gig or at a rehearsal for the next one. He keeps all his performance dates and rehearsal times straight while working three days a week repairing instruments at Hume Music Inc., 711 W. 23rd.
"I have a good calendar," he said, "and I use it."
Bysom has played in and headed up other groups over the years, including Paul Gray's Gaslight Gang and River City Six. He guesses he may have played in 50 different groups over the years.
"Any place I went, I found a band to play with," he said.
While studying music and engineering at KU, he had his own dance band. That's where he met John Weatherwax.
Weatherwax, who began studying at KU in 1938, joined Bysom's college band.
"We've been playing together ever since," Bysom said. They have had other chances to play together in Lawrence over the years; they play in several bands together still, including the Junk Yard Jazz.
"Clyde is one of the best musicians I've ever played with," Weatherwax said. "He knows all the musicians that have played in the Kansas City area."
Anyplace he went
Bysom still played in various bands after he left KU for a job with Boeing Company in Wichita and got married. He even pinpointed groups to perform with during World War II in the service -- playing in officers clubs and for enlisted men while in training and on assignment.
Bysom joined the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1944. During his training in Texas, he pulled together a dance band. After training, he became a gun commander on a B-29; one of the 15 crews in the atomic bomb group based on Tinian, an island in the Pacific. He played in a jazz group of servicemen when not running bombing missions over Japan.
His B-29 crew did not run either of the missions that dropped atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, but his band played at the ceremonies upon the return of those crews.
He left the service in 1946 and returned to Wichita. In 1949, he and his family moved back to Lawrence to work for Reuter Pipe Organ Co.
A good day job
Despite his love of music, Bysom didn't make his living playing in bands.
"I always tell people you need a good job to support your music habit," he said.
After he retired for Reuter more than 20 years ago, he again took music courses at KU, including conducting and jazz improvisation.
"I like just about any kind of music that's well done," he said.
Though he likes playing many kinds of music, Bysom said one of his favorite things to do is play for dancers, though there are few places left with enough room for a good dance floor. He doesn't dance much himself, though. He took a few lessons from a neighbor when he was in high school, but then he started a dance band.
"I can't do both," he said.
Bysom lives in Lawrence with his wife, Pauline, a retired Central Junior High School teacher. His daughter, Terri Stringer, lives in Lawrence, too. The Bysoms have three grandchildren and a great-great grandson.
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