Friday, February 8, 2013

Farewell: Donald Byrd

(December 9, 1932 – February 4, 2013)

Here we are again at the point of morning the passing of another great in the world of music. This past Monday we lost Donald Byrd, born Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II, one of my all-time favorite trumpeters. Byrd was the only bebop Jazz musician who successfully pioneered the funk and soul genres while simultaneously remaining a Jazz artist. Starting out in Jazz as a sideman to the likes of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Thelonius Monk and many others, as a band leader starting in the 1960's, Byrd scored Black Byrd in 1973, Blue Note's best selling record which helped usher in the era of Jazz-Funk fusion with the help of the Mizell Brothers [Larry & Fonce]. His other notable fusion albums include Street Lady (1973), Stepping into Tomorrow (1974), Places and Spaces (1975) and Caricatures (1976).

Byrd is responsible for helping Herbie Hancock gain notoriety as an artist by suggesting he play for Miles Davis' quintet and introducing him to Mongo Santamaria who helped turn Hancock's "Watermelon Man" into a chart topping hit. As a professor, he taught at Rutgers University, the Hampton Institute, New York University, Queens College, Oberlin College, Cornell University, North Carolina Central University, Delaware State University and Howard University. While teaching at Howard in 1973, he helped establish and co-produce the fusion group The Blackbyrds, consisting of the best musicians from his music classes. They managed to score major hits with "Walking In Rhythm", "Rock Creek Park" and "Happy Music".

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