Share This Page

Jazz man innovated to remain relevant

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Trumpeter, composer and educator Donald Byrd has died. He was 80. AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, file

DOVER, Del. — Jazz musician Donald Byrd, a leading hard-bop trumpeter of the 1950s who collaborated on dozens of albums with top artists of his time and later enjoyed commercial success with hit jazz-funk fusion records such as “Black Byrd,” has died. He was 80.

He passed away Feb. 4 in Delaware.

Byrd, who was a pioneer in jazz education, attended Cass Technical High School in Detroit, played in military bands in the Air Force and moved to New York in 1955. The trumpeter rose to national prominence when he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers later that year, filling the seat in the bebop group held by his idol Clifford Brown.

He soon played with Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.

In the 1960s, Byrd, who had received his master's degree from the Manhattan School of Music, turned his attention to jazz education. He studied in Paris with composer Nadia Boulanger, became the first person to teach jazz at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and started the jazz studies department of Howard University in Washington.

Byrd began moving toward a more commercial sound with the funk-jazz fusion album “Fancy Free” in 1969, taking a path followed by fellow trumpeters Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard. He teamed up with the Mizell brothers to release “Black Byrd” in 1973, a blend of jazz, R&B and funk that became Blue Note's highest selling album at the time.

Byrd's group, the Blackbyrds, landed in the Top 10 on R&B charts with the mid-'70s albums “Street Lady,” “Stepping Into Tomorrow” and “Place and Spaces” that reached a mainstream audience with a sound heavy on R&B and rock influences. In 2000, the National Endowment for the Arts recognized Byrd as a Jazz Master, the nation's highest jazz honor.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.