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Donald Byrd: The Hardbop Years

After 25-year-old trumpet great Clifford Brown died unexpectedly in a 1956 car accident, some critics and fans looked to Donald Byrd as a possible successor.

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Donald Byrd

Photo: Album cover art

Jazz writer Bob Blumenthal: “Donald Byrd was the right trumpeter at the right time when he arrived in New York at the age of 22 in 1955.”

After 25-year-old trumpet great Clifford Brown died unexpectedly in a 1956 automobile accident, some critics and fans looked to a recent Manhattan arrival from Detroit as a possible successor: Donald Byrd. This week we’ll celebrate the trumpeter’s legacy with a program devoted to his hardbop recordings from the late 1950s and 1960s, drawing on albums that he made with saxophonists Gigi Gryce, Jackie McLean, Pepper Adams, and Sonny Red–the first incarnation of Donald Byrd, which jazz writer Larry Kart has described as “a clear-toned trumpeter with a gift for light and graceful playing on the chords.”

Byrd would undergo several stylistic changes throughout his career, finding commercial success with forays into electric and funk-influenced jazz that produced bestselling LPs like Black Byrd, but eventually he would return to the classic style of his youth. His well-honed talent, deep musical knowledge, warm and lyrical drive, and dependability made him a busy musician in the golden age of hardbop; even so, he continued to avidly pursue education, earning several college degrees (including one in law) and teaching frequently throughout his career.

Music Heard On This Episode

Devil Whip
Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams — Byrd in Hand (Blue Note, 1959)
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Devil Whip
Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams — Byrd in Hand (Blue Note, 1959)

Notes: Byrd composition.

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Satellite
Jazz Lab — Modern Jazz Perspective (Collectables, 1957)

Notes: With Donald Byrd on trumpet and Gigi Gryce on alto sax.

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Greasy
Jackie McLean — New Soil (Blue Note, 1959)

Notes: With Donald Byrd on trumpet .

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Here Am I
Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams — Byrd in Hand (Blue Note, 1959)

Notes: Byrd composition.

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Pure D. Funk
Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams — At the Half Note Cafe (Blue Note, 1960)

Notes: Midpoint music bed.

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Chant
Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams — Chant (Blue Note, 1961)

Notes: With Herbie Hancock on piano.

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Secret Love
Donald Byrd — Slow Drag (Blue Note, 1967)

Notes: With Sonny Red on alto sax.

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Chico San
Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams — The Creeper (Blue Note, 1967)

Notes: Chick Corea composition; Corea on piano.

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Early Sunday Morning
Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams — The Creeper (Blue Note, 1967)

Notes: Donald Byrd composition.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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