Donald Byrd Biography

9 December 1932, Detroit, Michigan, USA. In the early 50s Byrd studied trumpet and composition and also played in bands during his military service. Later in the decade he was frequently called upon to record with leading bop musicians, including John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, Phil Woods, Sonny Rollins, Art Blake, Kenny Clarke and Gigi Gryce (with whom he co-led the Jazz Lab quintet). At the end of the 50s he was in a partnership with Pepper Adams that lasted until 1961. Shortly thereafter, Byrd resumed his studies, this time in Europe. In the mid-60s he began a long and parallel career as a jazz educator, teaching at some of the USA’s most important seats of learning, including Rutgers and Howard universities. However, he continued to record, playing with musicians including Dexter Gordon. During the 70s, Byrd experimented with jazz rock and achieved some commercial success with his records. Much of this work was soul- and funk-inspired and he founded the Blackbyrds with this in mind. Their series of albums represents pure funk, and the jazz hardliners were often critical of this musical heresy. He continued his teaching, however, and retained his strong links with the hard bop movement in jazz. In 1993 he recorded with Gang Starr rapper Guru on his adventurous jazz/rap fusion project Jazzmatazz. A leading bop trumpet stylist, Byrd’s striking technique and rich and beautiful tone make him one of the most lyrical of his generation of jazzmen.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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