Donald Bryd, a trumpeter, composer and educator who took the jazz tradition on an exciting journey through a variety of genres, from spirituals to funk, died on Feb. 4. He celebrated his 80th birthday in December.
Byrd died in Delaware, according to Haley Funeral Directors in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Mich., which is handling the arrangements. It had no details on his death, as stated in an article on the Huffington Post.
According to Amoeba, the major music store in Los Angeles, following rumors of Byrd’s death, his nephew, jazz keyboardist Alex Bugnon, confirmed his passing via Facebook. “I have no more patience for this unnecessary shroud of secrecy placed over his death by certain members of his immediate family,” wrote Bugnon. He also noted Byrd lived in Delaware, but the funeral will be in his hometown of Detroit.
As of press time, an official statement from Byrd’s immediate family or one of his many labels had not been released.
Byrd was a relentless trailblazer always looking to expand the traditional exponents of jazz while making it an exciting expedition for listeners and himself. As a leader, he recorded 25 albums for Blue Note, including “A New Perspective” (1963), his most popular and the one that staked his claim as an innovator. It featured the single “Cristo Redentor,” an eight-voice chorus directed by Coleridge Perkinson and written and arranged by Duke Pearson.
In the album liner notes, Bryd noted, “This is a modern hymnal in the tradition of the Tuskegee Alabama Choir and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. My father was a Methodist minister so I always wanted to write an album of spiritual-like pieces.”
In 1975, still with Blue Note, Byrd demonstrated his versatility by joining forces with the Mizell Brothers (producers-writers-musicians Larry and Fonce) and recorded “Places and Spaces,” a hip, funky dance album with smooth vocals–a real crossover album. He recorded with Blue Note from 1959-1976.
He also recorded with Transition, the bop label Prestige, Columbia and Verve. As a sideman in demand, he recorded with a variety of musicians on some of their notable recordings, including Cal Tjader’s “Soul Sauce,” Jackie McLean’s “Jackie’s Bag,” John Coltrane’s “Lush Life” and Elmo Hope’s “Informal Jazz.” He also recorded and played with everyone from Gigi Gryce to Hank Mobley, Gene Ammons, Jimmy Smith, Art Blakey, Kenny Burrell, Hank Jones, Lou Donaldson, Thelonious Monk and Pepper Adams, among many others.
Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II was born in Detroit on Dec. 9, 1932. He was influenced by his father, an amateur musician, and started playing the trumpet at an early age. By the time he finished high school, his playing ability was well known, especially after playing with Lionel Hampton.
While in the Air Force, he played in the military band, following which he returned to Wayne State University to complete his degree in music in 1954.
The following year he moved to New York and attended the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned his master’s. During this period he also began performing with pianist George Wallington’s group. Later that year, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, the group where his idol Clifford Brown was so prominent.
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.