Trumpeter Donald Byrd, a funk-fusion experimenter, dies at 80

  • By Reed Johnson Los Angeles Times
  • Tuesday, February 12, 2013 9:04am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

LOS ANGELES — Jazz trumpeter and band leader Donald Byrd, whose clean, elegant phrasing made his reputation in the 1950s and ‘60s before he began experimenting in the ‘70s and ‘80s with jazz-funk-R&B fusions on discs such as “Black Byrd” and “Thank You … for F.U.M.L. (Funking Up My Life),” has died at age 80.

He reportedly died Feb. 4 in Dover, Del.

Byrd was born Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II in Detroit and grew up immersed in that city’s rich blues and church-music culture (his father was a Methodist minister).

He moved to New York in 1955 and quickly became one of the most sought-after young trumpeters in America and an exponent of the hard-bop movement. Eventually, he would collaborate with Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Critic Nat Hentoff hailed his debut album for heralding “one of the most important jazz trumpet talents in the past few years.”

In the early ‘70s, Byrd joined a number of jazz artists, including Miles Davis, to begin fusing jazz with R&B and funk elements. His album “Black Byrd” peaked at No. 88 on the Billboard Top 100, and Byrd expanded his following among younger listeners who were coming to jazz through jazz-influenced pop-soul groups such as Earth, Wind &Fire and other funk fusionists such as Roy Ayers.

One standout track from that period, “Loving You” (from “Thank You … for F.U.M.L.”), lays a trumpet’s guiding melodic line, plus silky lead male and backing female vocals, over a snapping bass line and cracking percussion.

Predictably, however, some jazz purists reacted with horror and condemned Byrd as a heretic. “The jazz people started eating on me,” Byrd recalled in one interview.

Byrd also put together a new group, the Blackbyrds, from some of his music students at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Among their hit singles were “Walking in Rhythm” and “Rock Creek Park,” an atmospheric, erotically charged paean to the Washington oasis.

The song has been heavily sampled by rap and hip-hop performers such as Public Enemy and Nas, and was used memorably on the soundtrack to the 1991 British film “Young Soul Rebels,” a same-sex love story set amid the tense world of England’s ethnic gangs and subcultures.

More in Life

Heavy Hollywood headlines: Robert Horton’s movies preview

In the midst of all the sexual-misconduct allegations, the holiday film season offers some relief.

‘Love, Chaos and Dinner’ an Teatro ZinZanni’s original show

The “Parsian cabaret” is a superb circus dinner theater operation in Marymoor Park through April 29.

Denzel Washington’s remarkable performance isn’t helped by plot

The actor is convincing as an awkward, eccentric lawyer, but unconvincing contrivances pile up.

‘The Breadwinner’ animation is strong, but its story is stilted

The Cartoon Saloon film never lets you forget that you’re here to learn an important lesson.

Pianist Kaitlyn Gia Lee, 10, of Mill Creek, will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major on Nov. 26 with the Everett Philharmonic Orchestra.
Young pianist to perform Mozart with Everett Philharmonic

Kaitlyn Gia Lee, 10, of Mill Creek, will play the piano at the Music for the Imagination concert.

Liz Oyama as Belle, Jimmi Cook as Gaston and John Han as Lefou star in the Edmonds Driftwood Players production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” opening Nov. 24. Magic Photo
In Driftwood’s ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ Belle has girl-power bend

Edmonds Driftwood Players presents Disney’s adaptation of the fair tale Nov. 24 through Dec. 17.

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with reads, listens

Pay tribute to the contributions of indigenous people to national history and culture.

New York tabs share ‘I’m With Perv’ headlines on Trump

Both are reporting on the president’s backing of accused Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Community dance events in Snohomish County

Dudes and Dolls Square Dance Club: 8 to 10:30 p.m. mainstream (rounds… Continue reading

Most Read