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Donald Byrd

Donald Byrd was considered one of the finest hard bop trumpeters of the post-Clifford Brown era. He recorded prolifically as both a leader and sideman from the mid-'50s into the mid-'60s, most often for Blue Note, where he established a reputation as a solid stylist with a clean tone, clear articulation, and a knack for melodicism. Toward the end of the '60s, Byrd became fascinated with Miles Davis' move into fusion, and started recording his own forays into the field. In the early '70s, with the help of brothers Larry and Fonce Mizell, Byrd perfected a bright, breezy, commercially potent take on fusion that was distinct from Davis, incorporating tighter arrangements and more of a smooth soul influence. Opinions on this phase of Byrd's career diverge wildly -- jazz purists utterly despised it, branding Byrd a sellout and the records a betrayal of talent, but enraptured jazz-funk fans regard it as some of the most innovative, enduring work of its kind. In fact, proportionately speaking, Byrd was held in even higher esteem by that audience than by straight-ahead jazz fans who enjoyed his hard bop output.

Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II was born in Detroit, Michigan, on December 9, 1932. His father, a Methodist minister, was an amateur musician, and Byrd was already an accomplished trumpeter by the time he finished high school, having performed with Lionel Hampton. Byrd served a stint in the Air Force, during which time he played in a military band, and subsequently completed his bachelor's degree in music at Wayne State University in 1954. He moved to New York in 1955 to get his master's at the Manhattan School of Music, and soon began performing with pianist George Wallington's group. In December of that year, he was invited to join Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, filling a chair once held by his idol, Clifford Brown, and Kenny Dorham. Byrd also began his recording career during this period, leading several sessions (mostly for Savoy) and working often as a sideman, particularly at the Prestige label. He left the Jazz Messengers in 1956 and joined up with Max Roach; he went on to play with the likes of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Red Garland, and also co-founded the Jazz Lab Quintet with altoist Gigi Gryce in 1957.

In 1958, Byrd signed an exclusive recording contract with Blue Note, and also formed a band with baritonist Pepper Adams, who would remain Byrd's regular partner until 1961. Byrd's Blue Note debut was 1958's Off to the Races, and he and Adams collaborated on a series of excellent hard bop dates over the next three years, including Byrd in Hand (1959), At the Half Note Cafe, Vols. 1-2 (1960), The Cat Walk (1961), and Royal Flush (also 1961), among others. Another 1961 recording, Free Form, found Byrd giving a young Herbie Hancock some of his earliest exposure. Following this burst of activity, Byrd took a sabbatical to continue his studies in Europe, where he spent some time under the tutelage of the legendary French music educator Nadia Boulanger. He returned to the U.S. in 1963 and recorded A New Perspective, a now-classic set that broke new ground by incorporating gospel choirs into its arrangements; its signature piece, "Cristo Redentor," became quite popular.

In the mid-'60s, Byrd focused more of his energies on teaching, and worked diligently to make jazz and its history a legitimate part of the college curriculum. He taught at Rutgers, Hampton, New York University, and Howard in the late '60s, and the last one remained a steady association for much of the '70s. In the meantime, Byrd continued to record occasionally, cutting a final spate of hard bop albums over 1966-1967 that included Mustang! and Blackjack. Byrd also began to study African music, inspired partly by the emerging black-consciousness movement, and became interested in Miles Davis' efforts to woo a younger audience (including Byrd's own students) by experimenting with electronics and funk rhythms. Released in 1969, Fancy Free found Byrd using electric piano for the first time, with a spacy sound that recalled Davis' In a Silent Way. Issued in 1970, Electric Byrd had more of a B**ches Brew flavor, and the jams on 1971's Ethiopian Knights were longer, funkier, and more aggressive.

Byrd truly came into his own as a fusion artist when he hooked up with brothers Larry and Fonce Mizell, who began to handle production, writing, and some musical support duties. Their first collaboration was 1972's Black Byrd, an upbeat, funky blend of jazz and R&B. Jazz critics detested the album and called Byrd all sorts of names, but the record was a smash hit; it became the biggest seller in Blue Note history, and just missed hitting number one on the R&B albums chart. In the wake of its success, Byrd formed a supporting group, the Blackbyrds, who were culled from the cream of his music students at Howard University and recorded through the rest of the '70s. Byrd went on to release a string of successful LPs in partnership with the Mizell Brothers, including the imaginary blaxploitation soundtrack Street Lady (1974), Stepping into Tomorrow (1975), the much-lauded Places and Spaces (1976), and Caricatures (1977). All made the Top Ten on the R&B album charts, and the Places and Spaces single "Change (Makes You Wanna Hustle)" even got substantial play in discotheques. Jazz-funk fans revere this period in general, but usually reserve their highest praise for Street Lady and, especially, Places and Spaces. As a side note to his musical career, Byrd finished law school in 1976, and went on to teach at North Carolina Central University.

Following Caricatures, Byrd parted ways with Blue Note and the Mizell Brothers and moved to Elektra. He recorded several albums over 1978-1983, but even the most commercially successful, 1978's Thank You...for F.U.M.L. (Funking Up My Life), didn't match the infectiousness of his Blue Note jazz-funk outings. In 1982, Byrd received his Ph.D. from Columbia Teachers College. He spent a few years in the mid-'80s away from recording, due in part to ill health, but continued to teach, moving on to North Texas State and Delaware State. In the late '80s and early '90s, Byrd returned to the hard bop of his early days on several sessions for the Landmark label. He participated in rapper Guru's Jazzmatazz project in 1993, and with the advent of the jazz-rap movement and England's acid jazz revival, his '70s albums became hugely popular sources for samples. In the meantime, Byrd continued his activities as a jazz educator. He died in February 2013 at the age of 80. ~ Steve Huey
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Places And Spaces

1. Change (Makes You Want To Hustle)

2. Wind Parade

3. (Fallin' Like) Dominoes

4. Places And Spaces

5. You And The Music

6. Night Whistler

7. Just My Imagination


Track List: Stepping Into Tomorrow

1. Stepping Into Tomorrow

2. Design A Nation

3. We're Together

4. Think Twice

5. Makin' It

6. Rock And Roll Again

7. You Are The World

8. I Love The Girl


Track List: Street Lady

1. Lansana's Priestess

2. Mis Kane

3. Sister Love

4. Street Lady

5. Witch Hunt

6. Woman Of The World


Track List: Black Byrd

1. Flight Time

2. Black Byrd

3. Love's So Far Away

4. Mr. Thomas

5. Sky High

6. Slop Jar Blues

7. Where Are We Going?


Track List: Electric Byrd

1. Estavanico

2. Essence

3. Xibaba

4. The Dude


Track List: A New Perspective

1. Elijah

2. Beast Of Burden

3. Cristo Redentor

4. The Black Disciple

5. Chant


Track List: Groovin' For Nat

1. Hush! (Take 2)

2. Child's Play (Take 3)

3. Angel Eyes (Take 4)

4. Smoothie (Take 4)

5. Sudel (Take 2)

6. Friday's Child (Take 1)

7. Out Of This World

8. Groovin' For Nat

9. Hush! (Take 1)

10. Child's Play (Take 2)

11. Sudel (Take 4)


Track List: At The Half Note Cafe 1960

Disc 1

1. Introduction By Ruth Mason Lion (Live)

2. My Girl Shirl (Live)

3. Soulful Kiddy (Live)

4. Portrait Of Jennie (Live)

5. Cecile (Live)

6. Theme (Pure D. Funk) (Live)

7. Child's Play (Live)

8. Chant (Live)

Disc 2

1. Jeannine (Live)

2. Pure D. Funk (Live)

3. Kimyas (Live)

4. When Sunny Gets Blue (Live)

5. Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea (Live)

6. Theme From Mr. Lucky (Live)


Track List: Fuego

1. Fuego

2. Bup A Loup

3. Funky Mama

4. Low Life

5. Lament

6. Amen


Track List: Byrd In Hand

1. Witchcraft

2. Here Am I

3. Devil Whip

4. Bronze Dance

5. Clarion Calls

6. The Injuns


Track List: Off To The Races

1. Lover Come Back To Me

2. When Your Lover Has Gone

3. Sudwest Funk

4. Paul's Pal

5. Off To The Races

6. Down Tempo


Track List: Clarion Calls

1. Clarion Calls

2. Devil Whip

3. Bronze Dance

4. The Injuns

5. Witchcraft

6. Here Am I


Track List: Royal Flush

1. Hush (Remastered)

2. I'm a Fool to Want You (Remastered)

3. Jorgie's

4. Shangri-La

5. 6m's

6. Requiem


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Byrd word some of his classic jazz check him out with pepper Adams late 50s and early 60s Byrd blows on becom hill wow
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OMG I haven't heard song in decades. This brings back so many pleasant memories
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The best of beats Uncle Red
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Miễn sịt Nicholas Payton giết gold
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Incredibile track! Donald Byrd at his best.
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I'm a DC native and we really were doing it in Rock Creek Park! Donald Byrd made me proud to be a DC resident. His music lives on.����
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R.I.P BIRD we've been blessed by your music.
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Stonewall can't stop listening.
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i'm new to jazz genre but i'm diggin this. i am snapping my fingers & tappin my toes.
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I am happy to learn that Donald Byrd had a Doctorate Degree, but sorry to learn of his passing. He was also an Aviator, and I met him in that part of his life, when I worked as a pilot briefer employed by the FAA in Philadelphia , PA.

When he came to me for a weather briefing I felt that I knew him, for some reason. When he told me his name, I told him that I knew him because I had attended a wonderful show featuring him and Gloria Lynne a couple of days before that meeting.

Roscoe Draper
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One of my all-time favorite songs....whe n I need to hear a nice groove ....this is it
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Love this song
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Been listening to D.B. since the 70S love his music.
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Great music. Thanks ������������
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That sound defined the decade
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What many don't know is that the style of jazz trumpet you hear here was developed by Donald Byrd and adapted by Freddie Hubbard. Byrd was a highly accomplished musician and academic. I met him in my early years in NYC on the street of Brooklyn. He was a very warm man and spoke to me for a very long time not knowing a thing about musician of the highest caliber.

Michael Missiras
Trumpet/Corn e t / C o m p o s e r
arctic1974@g m a i l . c o m
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Been listening to Donald Byrd since the mid 70's and I always get a thrill when feeling the notes in my head.
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"Mis Kane" @ The Soul BBQ.
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love this song! takes me back to my dad listening to jazz always on a Sunday afternoon every much the reason why I love jazz !
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R I p. Donald. Byrd
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If you haven't heard of Hugh Masekela you're ethier deaf , stupid or live up under a muddy rock! You probably need to Graze In The Grass ��
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a definite EAR TREAT @ every opportunity one takes to listen to this gentleman...
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My father loved his music. Truly one of the best
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charles_losb a n o s
Black Byrd was one of my first jazz albums and I was hooked!
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I can't stop listening to the Love Byrd album (Love has Come Around, Butterfly, I Feel Like Loving You Today, I Love Your Love, I'll Always Love You, Love For Sale, Falling) WOOO what a album!!! If you don't have this album you really need to pick it up.
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Miss u an ur music very much
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He always brought it when he played!!!!!! ! nuff said...
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Donald Byrd, the man "forever"
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THINK TWICE ANDREW WIND PARADE are my favorites, but the list goes on, and on, and on....infini t y . Donald Byrd., the best composer
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These songs relax me
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Spent a delightful evening with Dr. Byrd at a party in Spokane, Wa. He just tears this track up! Who is the bari player?
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davidhuerta6 9 8
Donald Byrd was my introduction to jazz in 72' / 73'..... forever grateful!
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michaeld1001 2
When Donald Byrd hits certain notes - it sends chills up and down your spine. Maestro - My heart sings along, keeping time with each stroke of your baton . . .
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Some of the greatest musical minds. Thank you.
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Rip Donald byrd
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The Hometown Great, Donald Byrd! From Detroit with LOVE, us Hip Hop Junkies appreciate your Timeless music. Especially us here in your Hometown Detroit! From Detroit to the Whole Wide World with LOVE! Enjoy! Rest In Peace Donald Byrd!
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A true Innovator & Educator.
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Classic music from an innovator !!!
Plus, it ROCKS !!!! Forever x
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straight flex in all the way
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Love me some Donald Byrd. Began listening to him when I was 15 years old. Love his music
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I would listen to Donald Byrd when I was in Texas in the Air Force when they were still recording music on vinyl in the 70's
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I was on that flight, retirement , no problem, fun,worthwhi l e yes.
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linksgayaren a
From the Fleetwood yeah can you feel the roll peace
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DB was a giant. Love his music.
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Doing it in the dark
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He was an extremely great artist!! Loved Walkin in rhythm by the Blackbyrds during that era. May he rest in Peace!!
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This guy is awesome. Sorry I've never heard of him till now. I've been a fan of Kenton, Ahmed Jamal, J. J. Johnson, Mancini, Dizzy, Basie, and many others. Just never ran across him. Feel like I'm starting over!

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keath_marsha l l
Dr. Donald Byrd's sound was my introduction into jazz/funk/fu s i o n music. I remember hearing Lysanna's Priestess as a teenager in the 70's. That got me hook and the colloboratio n w/ the Blackbyrds really set the stage. I've played his 'best of CD's in my car so much that I often ketch my 16 yr old daughter singing or humming his songs now. Thats the best tribute I could give to this awesome musician. Passing on his gift of music, his sound to the my child.
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Detroit's own Donald Byrd, can't believe he has been gone 8 months now. His music lives on thanks to his many fans and outlets like Pandora. A great man and musician.
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