Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II[1] (December 9, 1932 – February 4, 2013) was an American jazz and rhythm & blues trumpeter and vocalist.[2] A sideman for many other jazz musicians of his generation, Byrd was one of the few hard bop musicians who successfully explored funk and soul while remaining a jazz artist. As a bandleader, Byrd was an influence on the early career of Herbie Hancock and many others.

Donald Byrd
Byrd in 1964
Byrd in 1964
Background information
Birth nameDonaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II
Born(1932-12-09)December 9, 1932
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
DiedFebruary 4, 2013(2013-02-04) (aged 80)
Dover, Delaware, U.S.
  • Trumpet
  • flugelhorn
  • vocals
Years active1954–2013

Biography edit

Early life and career edit

Byrd was born in 1932 in Detroit, Michigan. His family came from the African-American middle-class. His father, Elijah Thomas Byrd, was a Methodist minister who greatly valued education and oversaw his son's schooling.[3][4] His mother, Cornelia Taylor, introduced Byrd to jazz music and it was her brother who gave Byrd his first trumpet.[4] He attended Cass Technical High School. He performed with Lionel Hampton before finishing high school. During this period, his first professional recording session was in 1949 at Fortune Records in Detroit with the Robert Barnes Sextette for the single "Black Eyed Peas" / "Bobbin' At Barbee's." After playing in a military band during a term in the United States Air Force, Byrd obtained a bachelor's degree in music from Wayne State University and a master's degree from Manhattan School of Music.[5] While still at the Manhattan School, he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers as Clifford Brown's successor. In 1955, he recorded with Gigi Gryce, Jackie McLean and Mal Waldron. After leaving the Jazz Messengers in 1956, he performed with many leading jazz musicians of the day, including John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and later Herbie Hancock.[2]

Byrd's first regular group was a quintet that he co-led from 1958 to 1961 with baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. The ensemble's hard-driving performances are captured live on At the Half Note Cafe.[2] Byrd's 1961 LP Royal Flush was Hancock's Blue Note debut. Hancock has credited Byrd as a key influence in his early career, recounting that Byrd took the young pianist "under his wing" when he was a struggling musician newly arrived in New York, even letting him sleep on a hide-a-bed in his Bronx apartment for several years.

He was the first person to let me be a permanent member of an internationally known band. He has always nurtured and encouraged young musicians. He's a born educator, it seems to be in his blood, and he really tried to encourage the development of creativity.

Hancock also recalled that Byrd helped him in many other ways: he encouraged Hancock to make his debut album for Blue Note, connected him with Mongo Santamaria, who turned Hancock's tune "Watermelon Man" into a chart-topping hit, and that Byrd also later urged him to accept Miles Davis' offer to join his quintet.[6]

Hancock also credits Byrd with giving him one of the most important pieces of advice of his career – not to give away his publishing rights. When Blue Note offered Hancock the chance to record his first solo LP, label executives tried to convince him to relinquish his publishing in exchange for being able to record the album, but he stuck to Byrd's advice and refused, so the meeting came to an impasse. At this point, he stood up to leave and when it became clear that he was about to walk out, the executives relented and allowed him to retain his publishing. Thanks to Santamaria's subsequent hit cover version of "Watermelon Man", Hancock was soon receiving substantial royalties, and he used his first royalty check of $6,000 to buy his first car, a 1963 Shelby Cobra (also recommended by Byrd) which Hancock still owns, and which is now the oldest production Cobra still in its original owner's hands.[7]

Byrd in 1964

In June 1964, Byrd played with Eric Dolphy in Paris only two weeks before Dolphy died from insulin shock.

Electric Byrd edit

By 1969's Fancy Free, Byrd was moving away from the hard bop jazz idiom and began to record jazz fusion and jazz-funk. He teamed up with the Mizell Brothers (producer-writers Larry and Fonce) for Black Byrd (1973) which was, for many years, Blue Note's best-selling album.[8][9] The title track climbed to No. 19 on Billboard's R&B chart and reached the Hot 100 pop chart, peaking at No. 88. The Mizell brothers' follow-up albums for Byrd, Street Lady, Places and Spaces and Stepping into Tomorrow, were also big sellers, and have subsequently provided a rich source of samples for acid jazz artists such as Us3. Most of the material for the albums was written by Larry Mizell.

In 1973, he helped to establish and co-produce the Blackbyrds, a fusion group consisting of then-student musicians from Howard University,[2] where Byrd taught in the music department and earned his J.D. in 1976. They scored several major hits including "Happy Music" (No. 3 R&B, No. 19 pop), "Walking in Rhythm" (No. 4 R&B, No. 6 pop) and "Rock Creek Park".

During his tenure at North Carolina Central University during the 1980s, he formed a group which included students from the college called the "125th St NYC Band". They recorded three albums; Love Byrd and Words, Sounds, Colors and Shapes which featured Isaac Hayes.[10] "Love Has Come Around" on Love Byrd became a disco hit, reaching number No. 4 on Billboard's U.S. Dance Club Songs[11] and in the UK and reached No. 41 on the charts.

Beginning in the 1960s, Byrd (who eventually gained his PhD in music education from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1982) taught at a variety of postsecondary institutions, including Rutgers University, the Hampton Institute, New York University, Howard University, Queens College, Oberlin College, Cornell University, North Carolina Central University and Delaware State University.[12] Byrd returned to somewhat straight-ahead jazz later in his career, recording three albums for Orrin Keepnews' Landmark Records.[13]

Byrd was a resident of Teaneck, New Jersey.[14] He died on February 4, 2013, in Dover, Delaware, at age 80.[8]

Discography edit

As leader/co-leader edit

Recording date Title / Co-leader Label Year released Notes
1955-08 Byrd Jazz Transition 1956 Live
1955-09 Byrd's Word Savoy 1956
1955-12 Byrd's Eye View Transition 1956
1956-05 Byrd Blows on Beacon Hill Transition 1957
1956-08 2 Trumpets with Art Farmer Prestige 1957
Modern Jazz Perspective with Gigi Gryce Columbia 1957
1956-11 The Young Bloods with Phil Woods Prestige 1957
Jazz Lab with Gigi Gryce Columbia 1957
1957-08 At Newport with Gigi Gryce and Cecil Taylor Verve 1958 Live
New Formulas from the Jazz Lab with Gigi Gryce Vik 1982
1957-08 Jazz Lab with Gigi Gryce Jubilee 1958
Modern Jazz Perspective with Gigi Gryce Columbia 1957
1957-09 Jazz Eyes Regent 1957
1957-? September Afternoon with Clare Fischer Discovery 1982 [15][16]
1958-10 Byrd In Paris Brunswick 1958
1958-12 Off to the Races Blue Note 1959
1959-05 Byrd in Hand Blue Note 1959
1959-10 Fuego Blue Note 1960
Byrd in Flight Blue Note 1960
1960 Motor City Scene with Pepper Adams Bethlehem 1961
1960-11 At the Half Note Cafe Blue Note 1960 Live
1961-04 Chant Blue Note 1979 LT series
1961-05 The Cat Walk Blue Note 1962
1961-09 Royal Flush Blue Note 1962
1961-12 Free Form Blue Note 1966
1963-01 A New Perspective Blue Note 1964
Up with Donald Byrd Verve 1965
1964-12 I'm Tryin' to Get Home Blue Note 1965
1966-06 Mustang Blue Note 1967
1967-01 Blackjack Blue Note 1968
1967-05 Slow Drag Blue Note 1968
1967-10 The Creeper Blue Note 1981 LT series
Fancy Free Blue Note 1970
1970-05 Electric Byrd Blue Note 1970
Kofi Blue Note 1995
1971-08 Ethiopian Knights Blue Note 1972
1972-04 Black Byrd Blue Note 1973
1973-06 Street Lady Blue Note 1973
1973-07 Live: Cookin' with Blue Note at Montreux Blue Note 2022 Live
Stepping into Tomorrow Blue Note 1975
1975-08 Places and Spaces Blue Note 1975
Caricatures Blue Note 1976
1978-02 –
Thank You...For F.U.M.L. (Funking Up My Life) Elektra 1978
Donald Byrd and 125th Street, N.Y.C. Elektra 1979
1981? Love Byrd Elektra 1981
1982 Words, Sounds, Colors and Shapes Elektra 1982
1987-09 Harlem Blues Landmark 1988
1989-10 Getting Down to Business Landmark 1990
1991-01 A City Called Heaven Landmark 1991

As sideman edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Donald Byrd (1932-2013)". February 3, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 209. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  3. ^ Schudel, Matt (February 11, 2013). "Donald Byrd, jazz trumpeter, dies at 80". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Broschke-Davis, Ursula (1986). Paris without regret : James Baldwin, Kenny Clarke, Chester Himes, and Donald Byrd. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. pp. 97–118. ISBN 978-0-87745-147-1.
  5. ^ "Donald Byrd obituary". The Guardian. February 12, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  6. ^ "Innovative jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd dies at 80". February 12, 2013. Retrieved October 17, 2015.
  7. ^ Tom Cotter, "The Watermelon Man and the Cobra", Road & Track magazine, August 2007
  8. ^ a b Yardley, William (February 11, 2013). "Donald Byrd, Jazz Trumpeter, Dies at 80". The New York Times. p. A28.
  9. ^ Huey, Steve. "Black Byrd (1972)". Retrieved October 17, 2015.
  10. ^ "When a Byrd Flew to North Carolina Central University". Archived from the original on July 31, 2020. Retrieved July 31, 2020.
  11. ^ "Donald Byrd". Billboard. Retrieved July 31, 2020.
  12. ^ Dr. Donald Byrd Named Artist in Residence Archived July 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, DSU Press Release, September 4, 2009.
  13. ^ Ginell, Richard S.. Donald Byrd: A City Called Heaven – Review at AllMusic. Retrieved February 14, 2021.
  14. ^ "The State of Jazz: Meet 40 More Jersey Greats", The Star-Ledger, September 28, 2003, backed up by the Internet Archive as of September 27, 2008. Accessed September 15, 2017. "Donald Byrd – One of the masters of post-bop trumpet and a noted educator, Byrd lives in Teaneck."
  15. ^ "Donald Byrd With Clare Fischer – September Afternoon". Discogs. Retrieved November 2, 2023.
  16. ^ Feather, Leonard (May 8, 1983). "JAZZ: 14 PAY TRIBUTE TO EVANS ON THE 88". Los Angeles Times. p. U58. ProQuest 153455839. 'SEPTEMBER AFTERNOON.' Donald Byrd with Clare Fischer & Strings. Discovery DS-869. Can you believe this? Here is Donald Byrd in a New York studio, 26 years ago, playing 'Dearly Beloved,' 'Stardust' and 10 others, with sumptuous strings and wind arrangements by Fischer. If he was no Clifford Brown, at least he had taste and a pleasing timbre. Long buried by Warner Bros., this was disinterred by Discovery's tireless discoverer, Albert Marx. 3½ stars.

External links edit