Donald Byrd was considered one of the finest hard bop trumpeters of the post-Clifford Brown era. He recorded prolifically as both a leader and sideman from the mid-'50s into the mid-'60s, most often for Blue Note, where he established a reputation as a solid stylist with a clean tone, clear articulation, and a knack for melodicism. Toward the end of the '60s, Byrd became fascinated with Miles Davis' move into fusion, and started recording his own forays into the field. In the early '70s, with the help of brothers Larry and Fonce Mizell, Byrd perfected a bright, breezy, commercially potent take on fusion that was distinct from Davis, incorporating tighter arrangements and more of a smooth soul influence. Opinions on this phase of Byrd's career diverge wildly -- jazz purists utterly despised it, branding Byrd a sellout and the records a betrayal of talent, but enraptured jazz-funk fans regard it as some of the most innovative, enduring work of its kind. In fact, proportionately speaking, Byrd was held in even higher esteem by that audience than by straight-ahead jazz fans who enjoyed his hard bop output.
b. Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II, 9th December 1932, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.
Donald Byrd is one of very few Jazz musicians, whose musical style has moved across the Jazz genre's fairly effortlessly throughout his diverse career.
His father was a Methodist minister and an amateur musician.
He attended Cass Technical High School on Second Avenue in Detroit, Michigan.
Donald had become an accomplished trumpeter by the time he finished high school, performing at this time with Lionel Hampton.
He served in the Air Force, during which time he played in a military band.
Donald then studied music at Wayne State University, from which he received his bachelor's degree in 1954.
He went on to receive a master's degree from the Manhattan School of Music in the mid-'50's.
Durning this period, he recorded for the Prestige, Riverside, and Blue Note, and Savoy labels (amongst others), both as a leader and as a sideman.
Following stints with the likes of Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Sonny Rollins, he co-led a band with the baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams from 1958-61.
Donald studied composition in Europe from 1962-63, then returned to the U.S., where he established himself as an academician, teaching at Rutgers, Howard University, and the Hampton Institute.
He was later to received his law degree in 1976, leading to a period of teaching at North Carolina Central University, and in 1982, he received his doctorate from Columbia Teachers College.
Donald continued to perform and record, releasing a number of fine straight-ahead Blue Note albums throughout the '60's.
In the '70's, his music diversified, coming to the attention of a blossoming fusion audience.
During the early Seventies, Donald enlisted several of his Howard University students, forming a band whose title became based around his surname, The Blackbyrds.
They recorded a string of successful chart singles which included the song 'Walking In Rhythm', an enormous pop hit both sides of the Atlantic.
Donald recorded a number of highly respected fusion album releases during this period, working alongside producers 'The Mizell Brothers' throughout this period with 'Places & Spaces' being considered his finest work at this time.
The first release with the Mizell's was 1972's, 'Black Byrd' (which featured 'Flight Time' and 'Where Are We Going'), which was followed by 'Street Lady' (in 1973 and featured 'Lansana's Priestess'), 'Stepping into Tomorrow' (in 1975 and featured 'Think Twice' and 'Design A Nation'), the classic, 'Places and Spaces' (in 1976 and featured 'Dominoes', 'Change (Makes You Wanna Hustle' and 'Wind Parade'), and 'Caricatures' (in 1977 and featured 'Wild Life and 'Onward Til Morning').
On leaving the Blue Note label, Donald relocated to the Elektra imprint, releasing 1978's 'Thank You...F.U.M.L (Funking Up My Life)', which featured the Syreeta vocal fronted 'Loving You'.
1979 saw a slightly more subdued Donald on his 'Donald Byrd and 125th St, NYC' release, which featured the instrumental 'Morning'.
By 1981, Donald had teamed up with Isaac Hayes for two album releases, the first of which was 'Love Byrd'.
This album contained, probably, his most commercial dancer to date in the form of 'Love Has Come Around', which proved hugely popular on the dancefloors, although the more subdued 'I Feel Like Loving You Today' received a great deal of attention from those on the Modern Soul Circuit.
1982's 'Words, Sounds, Colors and Shapes' proved less successful, and Donald retired from the recording studio for an eight year period, before returning to the studio for a more straight ahead Jazz album called 'Getting Down To Business' in 1990.
He began returning to his more traditional Jazz Roots, recording with peers such as Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson, and with younger musicians including Kenny Garrett and Mulgrew Miller.
In 2001, Donald Byrd had become unwell, however, he continued to work.
In September 2009, he was named an artist-in-residence at Delaware State University.
Donald resided in Teaneck, New Jersey.
He passed away in Delaware in 2013.