BOWLING GREEN — Robert Harris Byler, Jr., a retired Bowling Green State University associate professor of journalism who specialized in writing about and in archiving jazz history, died under Hospice care at his home in Venice, Fla., on April 28. He was 87.
His oldest daughter, Rena Breeding, said he had colon cancer that spread to his liver.
Robert Harris Byler, Jr.
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“He definitely had jazz in his blood,” according to Ms. Breeding, who also said her father was known for his Hawaiian shirts and eclectic outlook on life.
“He wasn’t your normal pinstripe-suit kind-of-guy,” she said. “There was no pretense there.”
The son of a Baptist minister, Mr. Byler was born June 28, 1930 in Sycamore, Ill. He got his bachelor’s degree from Illinois Wesleyan University, his master’s degree from the University of Missouri, and his doctorate degree from BGSU, where he joined the journalism faculty in 1973 and taught for several years until his retirement.
Earlier in his career, he was a reporter, photographer, and classified ad salesman for two daily newspapers, and a public information officer at at Mead Johnson & Co. in Evansville, Ind. In 1968, five years before joining the BGSU faculty, he was named head of the University of Evansville’s journalism program.
While in Evansville, he was founder and president of the Evansville Area Jazz Club, where he helped produce four jazz festivals and many concerts. He had several hundred articles, photographs, and videos published. His freelance work included a decades-long stint with a now-defunct traditional jazz and ragtime monthly newspaper called the Mississippi Rag.
The Syncopated Times, an online jazz publication, said in a recent tribute that Mr. Byler was “a traditional jazz superfan who was well respected in the Dixieland community for his decades of writing for the Mississippi Rag and other publications.”
“He was also a videographer who — along with his wife Ruth, who passed last year — taped hundreds of hours of concert footage at jazz festivals around the world,” the publication stated. “These were not the three minute cell-phone videos we’ve come to expect from concert footage, but full shows, filmed from tripods, and going back as far as the 1980s. In many cases he captured combinations of musicians that are not preserved anywhere else.”
Many of those archives have been preserved and donated. Many also are on YouTube and Flickr pages Mr. Byler created with the help of his son, Greg Byler.
“Obviously, my father was very passionate and driven about thinking outside the box, which was a gift. He liked to do things his way and teach people to think for themselves,” another daughter, Diane Byler, said.
Ray Heitger, a Toledo clarinetist who leads the city’s best-known Dixieland band, the Cakewalkin’ Jass Band, said Mr. Byler was a longtime friend to the jazz community.
“He loved the music,” according to Mr. Heitger, whose group celebrated its 50th anniversary in December. “He did all he could to promote jazz.”
Bill Genson, a Sylvania trumpeter, also spoke fondly of Mr. Byler’s work as a jazz historian and archivist, as well as his affable personality.
“He was just a prolific writer,” Mr. Genson said. “I don’t know what it was, but he and I clicked. There was something special about our relationship. He was a great guy.”
Survivors include Mr. Byler’s children, Rena Breeding, Greg Byler, and Diane Byler; seven grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. Mr. Byler’s wife, Ruth, died four years ago.
The couple traveled the world and to all 50 states across America. Mr. Byler first got interested in jazz while listening to old Stan Kenton radio broadcasts when he was 12. He served in the Army as a signal corps photographer in the 1950s, and traveled to 13 countries while on leave.
He used to say he loved jazz because it is a creative, thinking-person’s musical genre, Ms. Breeding said.
“Jazz creates itself every time,” she said her father was fond of saying. “It’s free. It flows from the people and becomes a new tune every time.”
The body was cremated at Mr. Byler’s request. A memorial service is being planned for this November in the vicinity of Clearwater Beach, Fla., to coincide with the 28th annual Suncoast Jazz Festival.
The Bob and Ruth Byler Archival Jazz Videos, which includes footage of several BGSU and Toledo-area concerts, can be viewed at bit.ly/2jUjkiH.
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