Thursday, 7 February 2013

Always the Word

I was waiting for a joyous occasion to celebrate Donald Byrd but the time has come for more solemn reasons.

After several days of quiet internet speculation, Byrd's nephew Alex Bugnon confirmed today via Facebook and that the great jazz trumpeter indeed passed away on February 4th of unknown causes.  He was 80 years old.  

Byrd set about as a schoolboy sideman with Lionel Hampton's band, later sitting in with Mel Torme and Nat King Cole, before becoming the stalwart musician, composer and one-man institution we remember.  He busted lips hard boppin' with fellow Blue Note legends Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, Hank Mobley and Horace Silver.  He was even known to get greasy with Lou Donaldson.  Always with the times, when jazz got groovy Byrd dropped Mustang! and when jazz plugged-in he turned on Electric Byrd.  But he's probably appreciated by most for stepping into the funk-fusion sounds of tomorrow, collaborating with the Mizell Brothers and producing The Blackbyrds. His 70s catalogue continues to yield precious gems for both hip hop beat miners and house head deep diggers.  And lest we forget his Paradise Garage anthem "Love Has Come Around."

His whole catalogue considered, however, I think his foremost composition remains "Cristo Redentor," from the divine - in every sense - 1963 album A New Perspective.  It's a masterpiece. No hyperbole.  As Byrd explains in that record's liner notes, "I mean this album seriously.  Because of my own background - my father was a Methodist minister - I've always wanted to write an entire album of spiritual-like pieces. The most accurate way I can describe what we were all trying to do is that this is a modern hymnal.  In an earlier period, the New Orleans jazzmen would often play religious music for exactly what it was - but with their own jazz textures and techniques added.  Now, as modern jazzmen, we're also approaching this tradition with respect and great pleasure."

Bye bye black byrd.


"Cristo Redentor," A New Perspective, Blue Note, 1963

Discogs: A New Perspective

"Here I Am," Byrd in the Hand, Blue Note, 1959

Discogs: Byrd in the Hand

"Ghana," Byrd In Flight, Blue Note, 1960

Discogs: Byrd In Flight

"The Cat Walk," The Cat Walk, Blue Note, 1962

Discogs: The Cat Walk

"Dixie Lee," Mustang!, Blue Note, 1966

Discogs: Mustang!

"Essence," Electric Byrd, Blue Note, 1970

Discogs: Electric Byrd

"Miss Kane," Street Lady, Blue Note, 1973

Discogs: Street Lady

"Think Twice," Stepping Into Tomorrow, Blue Note, 1975

Discogs: Stepping Into Tomorrow

"Wind Parade," Places and Spaces, Blue Note, 1975

Discogs: Places and Spaces

"Spaced Out," The Blackbyrds, Flying Start, Fantasy, 1974

Discogs: Flying Start

"Rock Creek Park," The Blackbyrds, City Life, Fantasy, 1975

Discogs: City Life

"Mysterious Vibes," The Blackbyrds, Action, Fantasy, 1977

Discogs: Action

"Love Has Come Around," Donald Byrd & 125 Street NYC, Elektra, 1981

Discogs: Love Has Come Around

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