Jazz Appreciation Month Spotlight: Donald Byrd
Throughout Jazz’s most dynamic period, Donald Byrd and the sounds from his horn changed with the times. A revolutionary bandleader, trumpeter, and producer, Byrd fused Funk, Gospel, and Soul with Jazz together after being knighted by such greats as Lionel Hampton, Art Blakey, and John Coltrane.
Byrd, who passed away in early 2013, embraced the future, whether mentoring Herbie Hancock, forming The Blackbyrds, or working extensively with Gang Starr’s Guru on two Jazzmatazz volumes.
With recordings dating back to 1955, Byrd came to prominence at the height of the Bebop era. Upon introduction, with his led ’55 LP, Byrd’s Jazz, whose album opener flipped a Lightnin’ Hopkins standard in “Blues,” the Detroit native was experimenting with genre. Releasing a series of albums in the ‘50s, Donald relocated to New York and ultimately ended up on the storied Blue Note Records. In between his extensive discography milestones, Donald and his horn played on albums by Cannonball Adderley, Lou Donaldson, and Jimmy Smith—artists, who like Byrd, would be embraced by Hip-Hop sampling more than three decades later.
Entering the ‘60s, Byrd’s Royal Flush LP commemorated the first Hancock appearance and composition on Blue Note, his would-be mainstay. With its flashy artwork (recognizable to Tone-Loc fans,) Byrd’s 1963 A New Perspective was a landmark release. The effort employed a Gospel choir, and started Byrd’s journey of bonding Jazz instrumentation with variations of Soul music. “Cristo Redentor” stood out from theproject, giving Byrd a hit, and a milestone for Vocal Jazz to come in the 15 years that followed. Even 50 years later, the versatile song has been reconsidered through songs by Action Bronson, Smoke DZA, and Royce Da 5’9”.
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Photo: Blue Note