Jun 17, 2015

Donald Byrd

I have played a good amount of The Blackbyrds music during the last few years. In a discussion with a local DJ at the Puces Pop Record Fair, I told him that he would have to get all of The Blackbyrds albums. That is after all what happened to me. I refer to the albums Donald Byrd produced for the group as essential.

The late Guru from Gang Starr is responsible for me knowing Donald Byrd’s name as early as I did. Their 1993 single Loungin’ is still widely believed to be the most popular single from the Jazzmatazz album. It would take me years to learn that Donald Byrd gave Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth their Places & Spaces for The Main Ingredient. One of Black Moon’s best remixes owes a lot to Donald Byrd as well. I could be found playing the game of dominoes at the time but didn’t know it was Byrd who recorded the song with the same title.

In the later 90s and early 2000s, I was exploring the origins of the hip hop music I loved. Like many friends and peers, I was curious to know who recorded what, where and when. I had already started checking out jazz music by that time but it was the traditional sounds of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Thelonious Monk and George Benson. 

As much as I was absorbing James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone and George Clinton’s music, Donald Byrd’s music was my introduction to jazz-funk. I noticed that Donald Byrd’s name was connected to The Blackbyrds albums I was going wild for. In doing my research, I learned Byrd had recorded music as part of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers before releasing solo albums in the 60s and 70s. That was how I was first aware of albums like Street Lady and Caricatures.

As stated in The Blackbyrds post, I learned about the monetary value associated with albums sampled by hip hop artists in the late 90s and early 2000s. My music purchasing decisions were ruled by the CD format and budgetary constraints. Even if I wanted to at the time, I would not have been able to own all of those important Donald Byrd and Blackbyrds albums.

I made do with The Best of Donald Byrd CD which had the essentials in one place for basically the price I could have paid to own one of his albums.

In retrospect, it appears that Donald Byrd would have at least two more chances for his music to be revisited due to hip hop culture. Tone Loc’s 1989 album cover was heavily inspired by an early Donald Byrd Blue Note album. A compilation album of Blue Note jazz classic remixes picked up where Loc left off. Madlib in particular loved Steppin’ Into Tomorrow.

Lastly, the late J Dilla thought about Think Twice enough to add his spin to the tune.

Jazz legend Donald Byrd died in February 2013.

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