Donald Byrd: Fancy Free

11 Feb

Donald Byrd

Donald Byrd: And 125th Street, N.Y.C.

Donald Byrd’s career has had many phases and elicited many reactions — not all of them adoring. Which evidently bothered the trumpet player not at all. He’s packed a double-album of  experiences — musical and otherwise — into his 78 years.

Born in 1932 in Detroit as Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II, he went by Donald Byrd professionally. It’s about all he’s curtailed.

He’s taught at almost as many colleges as he’s played genres of music, and the list of records he’s made  would be longer than any course syllabus. He’s played with his students — the Blackbyrds who cracked the charts in the 70s (Walking in Rhythm) were a group of his students at Howard University.

It was at that time that Byrd deviated from traditional jazz. Weaned on bop and as one of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, he forayed into funk and soul and fusion. Some critics received his career shift as if it was a note played off-key, but Byrd’s 1972 album Black Byrd was Blue Note’s highest seller ever.

Said Byrd:  “Whether it’s hard bop or funk or hip hop, to me there’s no difference. It’s all black music, and these are all valid expressions of that.”

He’s continued to explore the music in the decades that followed (including a rap album collaboration in 1993 with Guru), but he hasn’t been limited by it: a scholar, an Air Force veteran, composer and educator. And more.


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