World of Jazz Podcast #16 – A Tribute to Donald Byrd

This weeks show was going to focus on the recently released set of Miles Davis Quintet live recordings from 1969 but following the sad news of the passing of the great trumpeter Donald Byrd it seemed appropriate to do a mix of his work.

Byrd was a leading hard-bop trumpeter in the mid-1950s, moving into post-bop in the 1960s and  who later became known for his blend of soul, funk and jazz fusion. Byrd’s influence has been more recently seen due to hip-hop artists e.g. A Tribe Called Quest, who have sampled his recordings. Whilst not recognised as one of the trumpet “greats” his body of work and his influence are notable.

With over 50 albums released as a leader and many more besides a member of bands like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers it’s been difficult to select the music….. but i’ve tried to highlight the various phases of his career as a leader….as usual you can listen to the podcast at this link

  1. Elijah – A New Perspective – 1963 –  one of the most successful uses of a gospel choir in a jazz context.  Byrd and a septet that also includes  Hank Mobley,  Kenny Burrell, and Herbie Hancock are joined by an eight-voice choir directed by Coleridge Perkinson. The arrangements are by Duke Pearson. This is a memorable album and a milestone in Donald Byrd’s career.
  2. Boo-Lu – All Night Long – 1956 – ostensibly a Kenny Burrell album, however the cover co-credits him along-side Byrd, Jerome Richardson (who delivers a stunning solo), Hank Mobley, Mal Waldron, Doug Watkins and Art Taylor. A Burrell/Byrd composition.
  3. Duke’s Mixture – The Cat Walk – 1961 – Byrd  baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams worked together on several recordings between 1958 and 1961, and The Cat Walk   is among the best. A quintet setting, with pianist Duke Pearson, bassist Laymon Jackson, and the legendary Philly Joe Jones on drums. Another great Duke Pearson arrangement of his own tune.
  4. Jamie – Ethiopian Nights – 1972 – this album had the jazz purists frothing at the mouth – the rest of the album is dominated by funk in a Brown/Stone way but  this is a more considered piece.
  5.  Book’s Bossa – Slow Drag – 1967 – “Book” being Walter Booker of course. One of Byrd’s  final hard bop dates. The group in this instance is altoist Sonny Red, pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Walter Booker and drummer Billy Higgins. The album finds Byrd looking both backwards toward the blues and forwards toward modal music and hints of the avant-garde.
  6. I Got It Bad (and that ain’t good) – Mustang – 1967 –  from the same year as above and retaining Red and Booker, the rest of the band is Freddy Waits, McCoy Tyner and Hank Mobley. A lovely reading of the Ellington/Webster classic ballad.
  7. Loves So Far Away – Black Byrd – 1973 – like Ethiopian Nights this one had the purists howling in indignation. For all that ire this became the biggest-selling album in Blue Note history. Hard Bop well and truly ditched for a funky fusion. The roots of Miles Davis influence from Bitches Brew and On The Corner are here but this is an altogether more relaxed and easy listen as Byrd moves from the saturnine sound of Davis to his own brand of fusion.
  8. Eldorado – Black Jack – 1967 – the same band as the Slow Drag and the same year ……lovely solo from Mobley on this….
  9. Low Life – Fuego – 1959 – the last album where Blue Note paired Byrd with Jackie McLean. Shifting between hard bop and hard bop throughout the album the front men are served by the excellent trio of Duke Pearson, Lex Humphries and Doug Watkins.
  10. The Dude – Electric Byrd – 1970 – back to funky fusion with this one….Duke Pearson, again, does the arrangements, and the addition of Airto Moriera brings a south american  feel to the whole affair.
  11. Bo – Byrd In Flight – 1960 – his fourth album for Blue Note covered a couple of seperate sessions – this one features Jackie McLean along with Duke Pearson who wrote the tune. As usual with this run of albums the music covers the transition from hard bop to the more exploratory post bop style. There’s a loose pre-funky feel to this one which makes it something rather special.
  12. The Loud Minority – Kofi – 1971 – the album was garnered from some of last Blue Note sessions of the 1960s before Byrd’s ventures into soul fusion territory. The playing is marvellous , with the likes of  Ron Carter andAirto Moreira giving Byrd the space  to stretch out and get funky in a jazz context. Also featured are  Lew Tabackin and  Frank Foster. One of the essential albums.
  13. Down Tempo – At The Races – 1958 – Working with an accomplished supporting band of Jackie McLean, Wynton Kelly, Pepper Adams, Sam Jones, and Art Taylor(drums) this isone of his strongest recordings of the 1950s. Byrd switches between hard bop, ballads, laid-back blues, and soul-jazz to create a timeless feel.
  14. Stepping Into Tomorrow – Stepping Into Tomorrow – 1975 – Byrd’s work with Larry Mizell as exemplified on this album, was a lot more complex than many thought. The arrangements are tight, the multiple layers of vocals and instrumentation belie the impression that this was merely cop show funk. Interesting I think that Byrd drew this style from Miles Davis early ’70s work only for Miles to pick up on it himself when he returned from his sabbatical.


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