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Night Lights Classic Jazz

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.

azz 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.

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