Donald Byrd, maven of jazz, hard bop and beyond, dies at 80
2/21/2013, 5:25 p.m.
It was noted that after the early death of Brown, Byrd was considered the best hard bop trumpeter on the scene. In 1956, he joined drummer Max Roach, and in 1957, he co-founded the Jazz Lab Quintet with saxophonist Gigi Gryce.
In 1960, Byrd went to Europe on sabbatical, where he continued his studies under the tutelage of the French music educator Nadia Boulanger. In the mid-'60s, at the height of the Black Power Movement, Byrd focused on establishing jazz and its history as a legitimate college curriculum. He began implementing some of his concepts while teaching at Rutgers, Hampton Institute in Virginia, New York University and Howard (he developed the Jazz Studies Program and remained there late into the 1970s).
While at Howard Byrd invited several of his best students to join a jazz-fusion group called the Blackbyrds that reached a mainstream audience with a sound heavy on R&B and rock influences. The band landed in the Top 10 on the R&B charts with the mid-'70s albums "Street Lady," "Stepping Into Tomorrow" and "Place and Spaces." During this time, he began experimenting with funk rhythms and electronics.
He continued to record when he wasn't lecturing at various colleges. In the mid-'80s due to health reasons he stopped recording but continued to teach, moving on to North Texas State and Delaware State.
In the late '80s and into the '90s, Byrd recorded a few sessions for the Landmark recording label returning to hard bop. He appeared on rapper Guru's "Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1" project in 1993. In the midst of the hip-hop movement Byrd's recordings were sampled on over 100 rap songs by such artists as Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, Ludacris and Black Moon. Byrd also continued his activities as a jazz educator.
In 1982, Byrd, who had a law degree, received his doctorate from New York's Teachers College and turned his attention from performing to education. Byrd was a distinguished scholar at William Paterson University and twice served as an artist-in-residence at Delaware State University. He was a longtime resident of Teaneck, N.J. In 2000, the National Endowment for the Arts recognized Byrd as a Jazz Master, the nation's highest jazz honor.
Byrd was a creative musician, performer and educator who dedicated his life to the music, its history and the education of young people to understand and acknowledge this great history that is still developing each day.