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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, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Electric Byrd

Comments

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!
A true Innovator & Educator.
PLACES & SPACES
Classic music from an innovator !!!
Plus, it ROCKS !!!! Forever x
straight flex in all the way
Love me some Donald Byrd. Began listening to him when I was 15 years old. Love his music
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
I was on that flight, retirement , no problem, fun,worthwhi l e yes.
linksgayaren a
From the Fleetwood yeah can you feel the roll peace
Jazzcpo
DB was a giant. Love his music.
Doing it in the dark
mskrm
He was an extremely great artist!! Loved Walkin in rhythm by the Blackbyrds during that era. May he rest in Peace!!
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!

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.
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.
WOW, I don't recall this beat, but I love it, so romantic
All of DB music are or will be CLASSICS.
Silky Smooth!
Aw s**t!
inhornrepair
Who is that Bari Player?!
denjen13a
Places and Spaces...sou n d t r a c k to my youth...When the cool thing was for kids to be interested in Jazz. He will be missed...
I do not know which one to choice, its so many. Places and Spaces and Stepping into Tomorrow is my Favorites, also the Black Byrds.
cdchenderson
DR.BYRD FLY HIGH....R I P
I love his music so much. It is sexy, vibrant, and cool all at the same time.
jeffbkr03
Leader of a great family of artist
wheelman5020 0 4
Donald Byrd& Mizell Bros= Magic. RIP/Your music will always be ingrained in my soul.
Have turely enjoyed over 40 years of listening to one of the greatest musicans.RIP DR.BYRD
that list of similar artists definitely represents the cream of the genre.
I must have been under a rock. Just heard he passed. RIP Dr. Byrd.
lwell
Flying home on the wings of angels...RIP Donald Byrd
lmbr215
Rest in Peace Mr. Byrd your music will live on.
latoyacbell
RIP
Just like sitting in a smoky jazz club. Authentic!
One of my favorite albums is Fancy Free. I still enjoy that as much as ever
One of my all time favorite jazz/funk/be b o p musicans. 'Street Lady', 'Royal Flush' & 'Black Byrd' r three of his BEST albums.
Think Twice, Wind Parade and many more songs from DB are out of this world...very romantic, mellow, get up and dance. been listening to DB since the 1976 and better with age. Peace, love and happiness
Perfect song to wakeup or sleep to
A true genius as everything from Cristo Redentor to Black Bird to stepping into tomorrow and the Blackbyrds cuts remain great songs .
wonderful
He hasn't missed a beat...so mellow and relaxing for the SOUL & MIND
I have been a fan of D. Byrd for years, not even knowing too much about him personally, but I perceived that he was exceptional. Now having read this bio it reveals how exceptional he really was. I love hearing of his higher and higher quest for knowledge while advancing the music.
this music i grew up with d.byrd,the black byrds,bobby humphrey this music is powerful
allen5840
One of the greats. Always will be.
mlaney42
Byrd with Pepper has been another favorite. Also like Byrd with Jackie Mac & Pepper on 'Off to the Races'. Saw him twice in LA
One of my faviort artist of all times and a major influiance on me and the jazz sean for many decades.Stac t them up all in row and watch them fall like dominoes,fli g h t time & places and spaces and the list goes on & on Much love to Donald
That was a very well wriiten bio. Thanks!
debanjan
Black Byrd and Ethiopian Knights are my all-time favorites.
Just heard Think Twice on Steppin' Into Tomorrow-I really love you, you know it's true! BF.
He's the man!!!! Places & Spaces and Black Byrd are my all-time favorite albums
Hard to beat Blackbird -an I know that's saying a lot -Dr.Bird, indeed he is! Street Lady's a classic! BF.
realston211
cristo rendtor by dr byrd one of the best ever made bryd made four of the greatest in a row, black byrd, street lady,steppin g , places and spaces, wind parade is the best song off a perfect spaces and places album ron west side alston realston211@ h o t m a i l . c o m
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