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Donald Byrd playing trunpet
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Rolling StoneRolling Stone

Fly Little BirdFly Little Bird
Donald Byrd And The Blackbyrds - Rock Creek ParkRock Creek Park
Fancy FreeFancy Free

Donald Byrd was considered one of the finest hard bop trumpeters of the post-Clifford Brown era. He recorded prolifically as both a leader and sideman from the mid-'50s into the mid-'60s, most often for Blue Note, where he established a reputation as a solid stylist with a clean tone, clear articulation, and a knack for melodicism. Toward the end of the '60s, Byrd became fascinated with Miles Davis' move into fusion, and started recording his own forays into the field. In the early '70s, with the help of brothers Larry and Fonce Mizell, Byrd perfected a bright, breezy, commercially potent take on fusion that was distinct from Davis, incorporating tighter arrangements and more of a smooth soul influence. Opinions on this phase of Byrd's career diverge wildly -- jazz purists utterly despised it, branding Byrd a sellout and the records a betrayal of talent, but enraptured jazz-funk fans regard it as some of the most innovative, enduring work of its kind. In fact, proportionately speaking, Byrd was held in even higher esteem by that audience than by straight-ahead jazz fans who enjoyed his hard bop output.

Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II was born in Detroit, Michigan, on December 9, 1932. His father, a Methodist minister, was an amateur musician, and Byrd was already an accomplished trumpeter by the time he finished high school, having performed with Lionel Hampton. Byrd served a stint in the Air Force, during which time he played in a military band, and subsequently completed his bachelor's degree in music at Wayne State University in 1954. He moved to New York in 1955 to get his master's at the Manhattan School of Music, and soon began performing with pianist George Wallington's group. In December of that year, he was invited to join Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, filling a chair once held by his idol, Clifford Brown, and Kenny Dorham. Byrd also began his recording career during this period, leading several sessions (mostly for Savoy) and working often as a sideman, particularly at the Prestige label. He left the Jazz Messengers in 1956 and joined up with Max Roach; he went on to play with the likes of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Red Garland, and also co-founded the Jazz Lab Quintet with altoist Gigi Gryce in 1957.

In 1958, Byrd signed an exclusive recording contract with Blue Note, and also formed a band with baritonist Pepper Adams, who would remain Byrd's regular partner until 1961. Byrd's Blue Note debut was 1958's Off to the Races, and he and Adams collaborated on a series of excellent hard bop dates over the next three years, including Byrd in Hand (1959), At the Half Note Cafe, Vols. 1-2 (1960), The Cat Walk (1961), and Royal Flush (also 1961), among others. Another 1961 recording, Free Form, found Byrd giving a young Herbie Hancock some of his earliest exposure. Following this burst of activity, Byrd took a sabbatical to continue his studies in Europe, where he spent some time under the tutelage of the legendary French music educator Nadia Boulanger. He returned to the U.S. in 1963 and recorded A New Perspective, a now-classic set that broke new ground by incorporating gospel choirs into its arrangements; its signature piece, "Cristo Redentor," became quite popular.

In the mid-'60s, Byrd focused more of his energies on teaching, and worked diligently to make jazz and its history a legitimate part of the college curriculum. He taught at Rutgers, Hampton, New York University, and Howard in the late '60s, and the last one remained a steady association for much of the '70s. In the meantime, Byrd continued to record occasionally, cutting a final spate of hard bop albums over 1966-1967 that included Mustang! and Blackjack. Byrd also began to study African music, inspired partly by the emerging black-consciousness movement, and became interested in Miles Davis' efforts to woo a younger audience (including Byrd's own students) by experimenting with electronics and funk rhythms. Released in 1969, Fancy Free found Byrd using electric piano for the first time, with a spacy sound that recalled Davis' In a Silent Way. Issued in 1970, Electric Byrd had more of a Bitches Brew flavor, and the jams on 1971's Ethiopian Knights were longer, funkier, and more aggressive.

Byrd truly came into his own as a fusion artist when he hooked up with brothers Larry and Fonce Mizell, who began to handle production, writing, and some musical support duties. Their first collaboration was 1972's Black Byrd, an upbeat, funky blend of jazz and R & B. Jazz critics detested the album and called Byrd all sorts of names, but the record was a smash hit; it became the biggest seller in Blue Note history, and just missed hitting number one on the R & B albums chart. In the wake of its success, Byrd formed a supporting group, the Blackbyrds, who were culled from the cream of his music students at Howard University and recorded through the rest of the '70s. Byrd went on to release a string of successful LPs in partnership with the Mizell Brothers, including the imaginary blaxploitation soundtrack Street Lady (1974), Stepping into Tomorrow (1975), the much-lauded Places and Spaces (1976), and Caricatures (1977). All made the Top Ten on the R & B album charts, and the Places and Spaces single "Change (Makes You Wanna Hustle)" even got substantial play in discotheques. Jazz-funk fans revere this period in general, but usually reserve their highest praise for Street Lady and, especially, Places and Spaces. As a side note to his musical career, Byrd finished law school in 1976, and went on to teach at North Carolina Central University.

Following Caricatures, Byrd parted ways with Blue Note and the Mizell Brothers and moved to Elektra. He recorded several albums over 1978-1983, but even the most commercially successful, 1978's Thank You...for F.U.M.L. (Funking up My Life), didn't match the infectiousness of his Blue Note jazz-funk outings. In 1982, Byrd received his Ph.D. from Columbia Teachers College. He spent a few years in the mid-'80s away from recording, due in part to ill health, but continued to teach, moving on to North Texas State and Delaware State. In the late '80s and early '90s, Byrd returned to the hard bop of his early days on several sessions for the Landmark label. He participated in rapper Guru's Jazzmatazz project in 1993, and with the advent of the jazz-rap movement and England's acid jazz revival, his '70s albums became hugely popular sources for samples. In the meantime, Byrd continued his activities as a jazz educator. He died in February 2013 at the age of 80.

-- by Steve Huey, All Music Guide


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1955Byrd Jazz
1955First Flight
1955Long Green
1955Byrd�s Word
1955Byrd�s Eye View
1956Two Trumpets
1956The Young Bloods
1956All Night Long
1956September Afternoon
1956The Jazz Message of Freedom for All
1957Byrd Blows On Beacon Hill
1957Jazz Lab
1957Star Eyes
1957Modern Jazz Perspective
1958Three Trumpets
1958Jazz In Paris
1958Off To The Races
1959Byrd In Hand
1959Byrd In Paris
1960Donald Byrd At The Half Note Caf� Vol. 1
1960Donald Byrd At The Half Note Caf� Vol. 2
1960Byrd In Flight
1960Motor City Scene
1961The Cat Walk
1961Royal Flush
1961Free Form
1961Out Of This World
1962Grooving For Nat
1963A New Perspective
1964Up With Donald Byrd
1964I�m Trying To Get Home
1967Slow Drag
1967The Creeper
1970Fancy Free
1970Electric Byrd
1972Ethiopian Knights
1973Black Byrd
1973Street Lady
1975Places And Spaces
1975Stepping Into Tomorrow
1978Thank You . . . For F. U. M. L.
1981Donald Byrd And 125th Street NYC
1981Love Byrd
1982Words, Sounds, Colors And Shapes
1990Getting Down To Business
1991A City Called Heaven
1992Harlem Blues
2002At Newport
2005In A Soulful Mood
2006With Strings
2012Modern Jazz Perspective


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1955 Byrd Jazz

1955 First Flight

01. Blues
02. Tortion Level
03. Woody �N You
04. Dancing In The Dark
05. Parisian Thoroughfare
06. Yusef
07. Shaw �Nuff

1955 Long Green

1955 Byrd�s Word

01. Winterset
02. Gotcha Goin� And Comin�
03. If I Love Again
04. Long Green
05. Star Eyes
06. Someone To Watch Over Me

1955 Byrd�s Eye View

01. Doug�s Blues
02. El Sino
03. Everything Happens To Me
04. Hank�s Tune
05. Hank�s Other Tune
06. Crazy Rhythm

1956 Two Trumpets

01. The Third
02. Contour
03. Dig
04. �Round Midnight
05. When Your Lover Has Gone
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1956 The Young Bloods

01. Dewey Square
02. Dupeltook
03. Once More
04. House Of Chan
05. In Walked George
06. Lover Man

1956 All Night Long

01. All Night Long
02. Boo-Lu
03. Flickers
04. Li�l Hankie
05. Body And Soul
06. Tune-Up

1956 September Afternoon

01. Stardust
02. Indian Summer
03. I�m A Fool To Want You
04. Some Day My Prince Will Come
05. Moon Mist
06. I Get Along Without You Very Well
07. The Touch Of Your Lips
08. Lazy Afternoon
09. Varmeland
10. Love Is The Sweetest Thing
11. September Afternoon
12. Dearly Beloved

1956 The Jazz Message Of Freedom for All

1957 Byrd Blows On Beacon Hill

01. Little Rock Getaway
02. Polka Dots And Moonbeams
03. People Will Say We�re In Love
04. If I Love Again
05. What�s New
06. Stella By Starlight

1957 Jazz Lab

01. Love For Sale
02. Geraldine
03. Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart
04. Minority
05. Wake Up
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1957 Star Eyes

1957 Modern Jazz Perspective

1958 Three Trumpets

01. Palm Court Alley
02. Who�s Who?
03. Diffusion Of Beauty
04. Forty Quarters
05. You Gotta Dig It To Dig It

1958 Jazz In Paris

01. Salt Peanuts
02. Parisian Thoroughfare
03. Stardust
04. 52nd Street Theme
05. At This Time
06. Formidable
07. Two-Bass Hit

1958 Off To The Races

01. Down Tempo
02. Off To The Races
03. Sudwest Funk
04. Lover
05. Paul�s Pal
06. Lover, Come Back To Me
07. When Your Lover Has Gone

1959 Byrd In Hand

01. Witchcraft
02. Here Am I
03. Devil Whip
04. Bronze Dance
05. Clarion Calls
06. The Injuns
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1959 Fuego

01. Fuego
02. Bup A Loup
03. Funky Mama
04. Low Life
05. Lament
06. Amen

1959 Byrd In Paris

01. Dear Old Stockholm
02. Paul�s Pal
03. Flute Blues
04. Ray�s Idea
05. The Blues Walk

1960 Donald Byrd At The Half Note Caf� Vol. 1

01. My Girl Shirl
02. Soulful Kiddy
03. Portrait Of Jennie
04. Cecile
05. The Theme

1960 Donald Byrd At The Half Note Caf� Vol. 2

01. Jeannine
02. Pure D. Funk
03. Kimyas
04. When Sunny Gets Blue

1960 Byrd In Flight

01. Ghana
02. Little Boy Blue
03. Gate City
04. Lex
05. Bo
06. My Girl Shirl
07. Child�s Play
08. Carol
09. Soulful Kiddy

1960 Motor City Scene

01. Stardust
02. Philson
03. Trio
04. Libeccio
05. Bitty Ditty

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1961 Chant

01. I�m An Old Cowhand
02. You�re Next
03. That�s All
04. Great Cot
05. Sophisticated Lady

1961 The Cat Walk

01. Say You�re Mine
02. Duke�s Mixture
03. Each Time I think Of You
04. The Cat Walk
05. Cute
06. Hello Bright Sunflower

1961 Royal Flush

01. Hush
02. I�m A Fool To Want You
03. Jorgie�s
04. Shangri-La
05. 6M�s
06. Requiem

1961 Free Form

01. Pentecostal Feelin�
02. Night Flower
03. Nai Nai
04. French Spice
05. Free Form

1961 Out Of This World

01. Birdhouse
02. Theme From Mr. Lucky
03. Day Dream
04. I�m An Old Cowhand
05. Currio�s
06. It�s A Beautiful Evening
07. Out Of This World

1962 Grooving For Nat

01. Hush
02. Child�s Play
03. Angel Eyes
04. Smoothie
05. Sudel
06. Friday�s Child
07. Out Of This World
08. Grooving For Nat
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1963 A New Perspective

01. Elijah
02. Beast Of Burden
03. Cristo Redentor
04. The Black Disciple
05. Chant

1964 Up With Donald Byrd

01. You�re Talking About My Baby
02. Blind Man, Blind Man
03. Boom Boom
04. My Babe
05. See See Rider
06. House Of The Rising Sun
07. Bossa
08. Cantaloupe Woman
09. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child

1964 I�m Trying To Get Home

01. Brother Isaac
02. Noah
03. I�m Trying To Get Home
04. I�ve Longed And Searched For My Mother
05. March Children
06. Pearly Gates

1966 Mustang

01. Mustang
02. Fly Little Bird Fly
03. I Got It Bad (and that ain�t good)
04. Dixie Lee
05. On The Trail
06. I�m So Excited By You
07. Gingerbread Boy

1967 Blackjack

01. Blackjack
02. West Of Pecos
03. Loki
04. Eldorado
05. Beale Street
06. Pentatonic
07. All Members

1967 Slow Drag

01. Slow Drag
02. Secret Love
03. Booker�s Bossa
04. Jelly Roll
05. The Loner
06. My Ideal
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1967 The Creeper

01. Samba Yantra
02. I Will Wait For You
03. Blues Medium Rare
04. The Creeper
05. Chico-San
06. Early Sunday Morning
07. Blues Well Done

1970 Fancy Free

01. Fancy Free
02. I Love The Girl
03. The Uptowner
04. Weasil

1970 Electric Byrd

01. Estavanico
02. Essence
03. Xibaba
04. The Dude

1971 Kofi

01. Kofi
02. Fufu
03. Perpetual Love
04. Elmina
05. The Loud Minority

1972 Ethiopian Knights

01. The Emperor
02. Jamie
03. The Little rasti

1973 Black Byrd

01. Flight Time
02. Black Byrd
03. Love�s So Far Away
04. Mr. Thomas
05. Sky High
06. Slop Jar Blues
07. Where Are We Going?

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1973 Street Lady

01. Lansana�s Priestess
02. Miss Kane
03. Sister Love
04. Street Lady
05. Witch Hunt
06. Woman Of The World

1975 Places And Spaces

01. Change (makes you wanna hustle)
02. Wind Parade
03. Falling Like Dominoes
04. Places And Spaces
05. You And The Music
06. Night Whistler
07. Just My Imagination

1975 Stepping Into Tomorrow

01. Stepping Into Tomorrow
02. Design A Nation
03. We�re Together
04. Think Twice
05. Makin� It
06. Rock And Roll Again
07. You Are The World
08. I Love The Girl

1976 Caricatures

01. Dance Band
02. Wild Life
03. Caricatures
04. Science Funktion
05. Dancing In The Street
06. Return Of The King
07. Onward �Til Morning
08. Tell Me

1978 Thank You . . . For F. U. M. L.

01. Thank You For Funking Up My Life
02. Sunning In Your Loveshine
03. Your Love Is My Ecstasy
04. Loving You
05. Have You Heard The News
06. In Love With Love
07. Cristo Redentor
08. Close Your Eyes And Look Within

1981 Donald Byrd And 125th Street NYC

01. Pretty Baby
02. Gold The Moon, White The Sun
03. Giving It Up
04. Marilyn
05. People Suppose To Be Free
06. Veronica
07. Morning
08. I Love You
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1981 Love Byrd

01. Love Has Come Around
02. Butterfly
03. I Feel Like Loving You Today
04. I Love Your Love
05. I�ll Always Love You
06. Love For Sale
07. Falling

1982 Words, Sounds, Colors And Shapes

01. Sexy Dancer
02. Midnight
03. So Much In Love
04. High Energy
05. Star Trippin�
06. I�m Comin� Home
07. Forbidden Love
08. Everyday

1990 Getting Down To Business

01. Theme From Malcolm
02. That�s All There Is To Love
03. Pomponio
04. I Got It Bad (and that ain�t good)
05. A Certain Attitude
06. The Onliest
07. Around The Corner

1991 A City Called Heaven

01. King Arthur
02. I�ll Always Remember
03. A City Called Heaven
04. Buck Down In Lu Easy Anna
05. Byrd Song
06. Del Valle
07. Remember Me
08. Not Necessarily The Blues

1992 Harlem Blues

01. Harlem Blues
02. Fly Little Bird Fly
03. Voyage A Deux (journey for two)
04. Blue Monk
05. Alter Ego
06. Sir Master Kool Guy
07. Hi-Fly

2002 At Newport

01. Johnny Come Lately
02. Nona�s Blues
03. Tune 2
04. Splittin� (Ray�s way)
05. Batland
06. Love For Sale
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2005 In A Soulful Mood

01. Stardust
02. Philson
03. Trio
04. Libeccio
05. Bitty Ditty

2006 With Strings

2012 Modern Jazz Perspective

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Graphics by YSM
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