RIP Donald Byrd

donald byrd2

The trumpet player Donald Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II died on February 4th 2013 aged eighty. Born in Detroit, Michigan, on September 9th 1932, Donald Byrd had been playing in bands accompanying Nat King Cole and Mel Torme since a very young age. He went on to play with such artists as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Max Roach and John Coltrane.

In the ’50 and ’60 he had become known as one of the best hard-boppers around, famous for his crystalline sounds and a particular attitude for improvisation. His fame was recognized by the academic world when he became professor in Ethnomusicology at New York Academy of Performing Arts and Howard University in DC.

In the late 60′s and 70′s Byrd decided to give his sound a different twist, setting off on a modern experiment: mixing jazz with funk and soul atmospheres. I had the privilege of seeing him play in 1993 with the Guru Jazzmatazz Tour and was not disappointed. Some jazz artists hold jazz purity above all and refuse to work in other music forms. This was not the case with Byrd, he embraced soul, funk and fusion. This brought him a whole new audience of hip hoppers, soul boys and funksters. During his tenure at North Carolina Central University during 1980s, he formed a group which included students from the college called, Donald Byrd & the 125th St NYC Band. They recorded the ‘Love Byrd’ album, this being one of Donald Byrd’s last highlights in his jazz/funk phase. The album had a couple dance grooves; notably the hit & garage classic “Love has come around”. Released as a single in 1981 it became a big club hit in the UK and reached #41 in the charts.

I have put together a tribute on Mixcloud which combines his early works with later more funk orientated songs. You can access the mix by clicking on the above image. If you like the mix, go check out the originals. The Blue Note recordings are a good place to start.


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