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DONALD BYRD (December 9, 1932 – February 4, 2013) | In Memoriam


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“I loved Donald Byrd’s playing. All of us jazz lovers in the Central High School band did. I was playing tuba then, but later eased on over to trumpet. After school sometimes, a bunch of would walk a couple of miles all the way from Central over to the Eastside. We’d stand on the sidewalk outside Byrd’s house near Northern High School. He’d be up there on the second floor, practicing. We’d get quiet and listen.  I got the idea that if I practiced the blues in all 12 scales, then maybe I’d be on my way to learning to play.”
— Al Young


Donald Byrd, extraordinary jazz trumpeter, dies at 80

By John Andrews
11 February 2013
World Socialist Web Site

Donald Byrd, an exceptional jazz trumpeter associated with the “hard bop” school of jazz exemplified by the Blue Note record label during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, died February 4. The cause of death has not been released.

Born Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II on December 9, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan, Byrd was very much a product of the post-World War II economic and cultural boom. As a student at Cass Technical High School—which then had a highly advanced music program—Byrd developed enough basic skills to fill in with the Lionel Hampton big band.

Rather than go directly into professional music, however, Byrd continued his education—interrupted by a four-year stint in the Air Force—obtaining a bachelors degree in music from Wayne State University before moving to New York City in 1955.

New York had been the center of jazz development since the early 1940s, when young musicians such as alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Bud Powell and drummer Max Roach modernized the conventions of swing era jazz into what became known as “bebop” or “bop.”

Byrd quickly meshed with major bop figures as well as the emerging players associated with the straight-ahead, small combo jazz style that became known as “hard bop.” He also attended the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned his first of five postgraduate degrees.

Byrd’s first recording session took place on June 28, 1955, three months after Parker’s death at age 34 from the consequences of substance abuse. Under the leadership of pioneer bebop drummer Kenny Clarke for Savoy Records, the recording session was also the first for alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderly.

Byrd came to New York with excellent technique and played with great lyricism, which placed him in great demand. Before the end of 1955, Byrd had three recording sessions for Savoy as a leader, and replaced trumpet star Clifford Brown in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, then considered a key incubator for the further development of the bop style.

Brown died tragically in a 1956 automobile accident, but other young, brilliant trumpeters, notably Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard, along with Byrd, filled the void …

To read John Andrews’ entire obituary, go to the original

Early Byrd   Courtesy photo

Final track from Donald Byrd’s “Slow Drag” album, recorded at the Van Gelder studios, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, May 12, 1967. Donald Byrd (trumpet); Sonny Red (alto saxophone); Cedar Walton (piano); Walter Booker (bass); Billy Higgins (drums).


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