One person's thoughts may change the world
Donald Byrd, the great Jazz musician died February 4th, 2013, at the age of 80. I have a few similarities to Donald Byrd. He played the trumpet. So do I. He attended Cass Technical High school, so did I. He attended Cass Technical with another great Jazz great, Alice Coltrane. I attended Cass Tech along with the great violinist Regina Carter. He attended Wayne State University, so did I. But, that’s where the similarities end. Donald Byrd was one of the greatest Jazz musicians of his era. I’m a software and database architect. Donald was a Hard Bop trumpeter with the advantage of being in Detroit at the right time and at the right place. Many of you don’t know, Detroit was and still is a jazz incubator. A bop town. The only flaw in the jazz world for Detroit is you can’t make any money playing jazz there. Great place to learn it, horrible place to make a living on it. Once you develop your craft in Detroit, you have to leave. But once you do, you conquer the world. When Donald Byrd left, his education helped him further his cause in jazz and beyond.
His first stop, New York attending the Manhattan, School of Music, but more importantly, replacing the great bop trumpeter Clifford Brown in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger. This was a monumental event for him, it verified his greatness as a trumpeter and adding him to a long line of trumpet players in the Jazz Messengers. But he didn’t stop there. He played with Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, and others.
But he didn’t stop there. He continued his education. He taught at Rutgers University, the Hampton Institute, New York University, Howard University, Queens College, Oberlin College, Cornell University, North Carolina Central University and Delaware State University. In addition to his master’s from Manhattan School of Music, Byrd had two master’s degrees from Columbia University. He received a law degree in 1976, and his doctorate from Columbia University Teachers College in 1982.
He took jazz in a new direction in the ’70’s. Stepping away from his hard bop roots, then went on to form the Blackbyrds, a fusion jazz groups that were formed from his former students. He performed as leader on a long list of records on the Blue Label. His recording work as sideman is even longer. Donald Byrd was one of the greatest trumpeters who ever lived.
Donald is gone. A little bit of the great era of Jazz that produced him has passed along with him as well. He will never perform live again. But his sound; lush, pure, clean, fast, inspiring, will endure with us forever. So go out, buy some CD’s, and appreciate a jazz genius you probably did not take into full account when he was alive. I will always appreciate what Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II gave to the world, and if you’re lucky, enlightened you….