The Ancestors Take Jazz Trumpeter Donald Byrd, 80

The  news showed up on my Facebook feed.  I am  so very sorry.

I discovered Donald Byrd in the Seventies, when I was working at this independent record store near the San Jose State campus.  Of course, he had been busy long before, but he still made an impact on me and many others.  Above is my favorite track from Street Lady, released in 1973: “Miss Kane.”

Up with Donald Byrd

Donald Byrd in the Sixties, on the cover of “Up with Donald Byrd” before he broke out of the mold and went another way (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Byrd’s nephew, said the Guardian in the UK, announced his passing:

Bugnon wrote on his own Facebook page: “Donald passed away Monday in Delaware, where he lived. His funeral will be held in Detroit sometime next week. I have no more patience for this unnecessary shroud of secrecy placed over his death by certain members of his immediate family.”

Byrd was born Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II in Detroit in 1932 and began his career with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the 1950s, performing alongside the likes of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and Herbie Hancock.

While his roots were in bebop he later became equally renowned for soul and funk, and particularly jazz fusion. He went on to become one of jazz label Blue Note’s most significant artists, for whom he recorded most of his releases, including the 1973 album Black Byrd, which became the label’s biggest ever seller.

Yeah, I remember Black Byrd, too.  That was some impressive work, and the Mizell Brothers were genius producers.  They were the equivalent of artists like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in the Eighties and The Neptunes in the late Nineties to the 2000s.  From AllMusic:

Purists howled with indignation when Donald Byrd released Black Byrd, a full-fledged foray into R&B that erupted into a popular phenomenon. Byrd was branded a sellout and a traitor to his hard bop credentials, especially after Black Byrd became the biggest-selling album in Blue Note history. What the elitists missed, though, was that Black Byrd was the moment when Byrd‘s brand of fusion finally stepped out from under the shadow of his chief influence, Miles Davis, and found a distinctive voice of its own. Never before had a jazz musician embraced the celebratory sound and style of contemporary funk as fully as Byrd did here — not even Davis, whose dark, chaotic jungle-funk stood in sharp contrast to the bright, breezy, danceable music on Black Byrd.

In some ways, it makes me think of a movie soundtrack—of the happy, funky times that I experienced at that time, that is.

From the website Spinner:

[…]Byrd went on to score major hits with his R&B fusion group the Blackbyrds, including dance-floor favorite “Rock Creek Park” and “Walking in Rhythm.”

Byrd’s work spanned decades of jazz and funk, from bebop and soul to R&B, inspiring acid jazz and fusion, always progressive, always testing his limits.

When his output began to wind down, Byrd’s music became even more relevant:  He became an essential part of hip-hop’s canon, sampled by everybody from De La Soul, Ice Cube and Tupac to house legend Armand Van Helden, and his sphere of influence became vaster still.

But why all the secrecy regarding the announcement of the trumpeter’s death?  May be some family or financial mess.  And that’s sad.  No details as to the cause of his death have been offered as yet.

Donald Byrd definitely was a part of my good times, and as far as I am concerned, he did it all.  Rest in peace, Byrd.  Come back to us again.

~ by blksista on February 8, 2013.

One Response to “The Ancestors Take Jazz Trumpeter Donald Byrd, 80”

  1. Very nice!


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