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ghost of miles

"Donald Byrd: the Hardbop Years"

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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 75th birthday (he was born on December 9, 1932) 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.

Donald Byrd: the Hardbop Years airs Saturday, Dec. 8 at 11:05 p.m. EST on WFIU and at 9 p.m. Central Time on WNIN-Evansville. It will also air Sunday evening at 10 p.m. EST on Michigan's Blue Lake Public Radio. The program will be posted by Monday morning for online listening.

Next week: "After the Vanguard: the Return of Bill Evans."

Edited by ghost of miles

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Blue Lake featured Donald Byrd this Friday -- "Lover Come Back to Me" from Off To the Races; "Air Mail Special" by Hampton's Big Band; "Little Rootie Tootie" by Monk at Town Hall; and "Here I Am" from Byrd in Hand is how it began. What a musician in that period. One of the reasons we don't hear as much from him today as we could have is because of that embrochure pictured above: he set up to expose more of the soft flesh inside his lips, which gave him a great sound, but it was unsustainable, even detrimental. Or that's what I've been told by other trumpets.

Byrd's 1955 session with Frank Foster, Hank Jones, Paul Chambers and Kenny Clarke, Long Green, was the first Savoy label recording I'd ever owned. Still can't get enough of his "Star Eyes" from that date.

Where's Larry's quote from?

Edited by Lazaro Vega

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Blue Lake featured Donald Byrd this Friday -- "Lover Come Back to Me" from Off To the Races; "Air Mail Special" by Hampton's Big Band; "Little Rootie Tootie" by Monk at Town Hall; and "Here I Am" from Byrd in Hand is how it began. What a musician in that period. One of the reasons we don't hear as much from him today as we could have is because of that embrochure pictured above: he set up to expose more of the soft flesh inside his lips, which gave him a great sound, but it was unsustainable, even detrimental. Or that's what I've been told by other trumpets.

Byrd's 1955 session with Frank Foster, Hank Jones, Paul Chambers and Kenny Clarke, Long Green, was the first Savoy label recording I'd ever owned. Still can't get enough of his "Star Eyes" from that date.

Where's Larry's quote from?

Lazaro, I used "Here I Am" too--one of my fave tracks off the Byrd/Adams Mosaic box.

Larry's quote is from a late-1960s Downbeat review of SLOW DRAG--a somewhat critical review which I quote at greater length near the end of the show. The IU School of Music has Downbeat in hardbound volumes from the late 1930s into the early 1970s, and this isn't the first time that I've come across one of LK's reviews while doing research.

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A fine idea for a program, David, but no one is expected to die in a car crash, unless they are NASCAR drivers. I'd go with "tragically" or "suddenly".

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This is my favorite period of Byrd's along with the sidemen he chose, namely McLean Adams and Red.

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Been listening to "The Cat" lately, which is one of the tastiest Byrd-Adams Quintet albums (Philly Joe is in great form, there are attractive originals from Duke Pearson and Byrd, and Adams is very creative-mellow), but a la that dimly remembered (by me) review I wrote of "Slow Drag," there's something about Byrd in his several pre-Black Byrds incarnations that leaves me a bit uneasy/less than convinced for various reasons. The early Byrd (at his best perhaps on the Jazz Messengers' "Nica's Dream" date) was the "light and graceful playing on the chords" guy IMO -- a very chord-to-chord improviser in practice, I think, though with a clear desire to make the results sound lyrical (which certainly could happen), though the thinking again seemed to be more chordal than melodic, which even when it all worked out left one (at least me) with a slight feeling of unease. Then things got much less-notey, more brassy, and at times overtly simple and overtly soulful. Again, even when it all worked, as it often did, I couldn't help but feel that the most prominent but mostly concealed element in this mix was Byrd's will to make things come out this way; the simplicity and soulfulness (the former especially) both sounded so "studied," if you know what I mean -- especially in the light of the lithe, chord-running Byrd of a few years before. The transition from one style to the other seemed kind of odd, even extra-musical. Was it in some way a response to Clifford Brown's death? Also, does anyone know on which albums of the '60s Byrd is playing pocket trumpet? He is on "Fuego" IIRC, and he sounds like he might be on "The Cat" as well.

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Seems to me like he shifted his style in 3 phases in the 50s and 60s - very lyrical in his early Savoy/Blue Note phase and with the Messengers (check out that Epic Lp for one of his greatest sessions IMO) then more of a gospel/pentacostal phase starting with the quintets with Pepper Adams and the 'Free Form' LP through to sessions like Sam Rivers 'Dimensions and Extensions' where he pared things down even further - almost a (not quite so out) Alan Shorter-ish style on sessions like that one. I think the first phase had his best playing - but there were always interesting things going on in the later phases.

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Seems to me like he shifted his style in 3 phases in the 50s and 60s - very lyrical in his early Savoy/Blue Note phase and with the Messengers (check out that Epic Lp for one of his greatest sessions IMO) then more of a gospel/pentacostal phase starting with the quintets with Pepper Adams and the 'Free Form' LP through to sessions like Sam Rivers 'Dimensions and Extensions' where he pared things down even further - almost a (not quite so out) Alan Shorter-ish style on sessions like that one. I think the first phase had his best playing - but there were always interesting things going on in the later phases.

I agree about the nature and number of the phases, and that the best of first phase was his best playing.

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Two sessions in particular stand out, for me. First that 'Jazz Messengers' date recorded with Blakey, Hank Mobley and Horace Silver for Epic. Both he and Mobley solo superbly on that one (inspired I guess by some fine Horace arrangements). Then there's the 'Long Green' session for Savoy which has some lovely lyrical playing on it, very well executed. A forgotten gem, that one (Frank Foster on tenor and Hank Jones on piano, I think).

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I remember reading -- but where? -- that Fuego was Byrd's only recording on pocket tp.

Listening to The Cat Walk (title tune), I'd say this is his normal trumpet sound of the time. The pocket trumpet (on Fuego) sounds less open and a bit hoarser than that.

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Donald Byrd lost his soul (most of it at least) after he studied with Nadia Boulanger in Fontainebleau, south of Paris, back in 1963-1964.

An excellent and imaginative jazz musician before that, he never managed to recover his spontaneity once he got back to the States.

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Interesting, brownie. I wonder what it was about Boulanger's method that put the damper on Byrd's lyricism/spontaneity?

Certainly, sessions such as 'Free Form', although very enjoyable in themselves - show a much more restrained player.

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I am not enough into musicial composition to judge Nadia Boulanger's achievements.

She certainly was a major influence on a lot of excellent composers. A formidable teacher!

Somehow I am not sure that jazz musicians really benefited from the experience.

She was a very charming Mademoiselle. I remember spending a day taking photos of her back in 1967 in Fontainebleau.

Edited by brownie

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Where's the link to the playlist?

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It's up now, Al--and the show is archived for online listening.

Lazaro: music for the promo was "Devil Whip," from OFF TO THE RACES.

Dan: I think the point of the sentence was that Brown did indeed "die unexpectedly"... "in a car crash" is a modifying clause.

I really, really wanted to include "Infra-Rae" from the Blakey album (a favorite of mine as well), but it would have meant chopping out either the Gryce Jazz Lab or the McLean track. Great playing from Byrd there for sure... I'm seriously thinking about doing a Night Lights outtake/supplemental audio segment for the website, about 15 minutes or so, that would simply consist of some brief commentary/info and music that didn't make it into the show for time or conceptual reasons.

Edited by ghost of miles

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It's up now, Al--and the show is archived for online listening.

Yes, I listened to it this morning. Another great show, as usual, but this time I beat you to the punch: I already HAVE the Byrd/Adams Mosaic. HA! :P:g

Seriously, it was a great show, and I was very happy you played one of my favorite tracks from Byrd in Hand, "Here Am I."

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Lazaro: music for the promo was "Devil Whip," from OFF TO THE RACES.

Isn't that from 'Byrd In Hand' ghost?

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Lazaro: music for the promo was "Devil Whip," from OFF TO THE RACES.

Isn't that from 'Byrd In Hand' ghost?

Yes. OFF TO THE RACES is just as good as BYRD IN HAND, FWIW IMHO.

Edited by Big Al

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Lazaro: music for the promo was "Devil Whip," from OFF TO THE RACES.

Isn't that from 'Byrd In Hand' ghost?

Whoops--yes, it is. Might behoove me to check my own playlists before responding to such queries, eh?

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It was good cross promotion, in any case, having a program of his music on Friday and another on his birthday Sunday. Seeing that he's from Michigan originally it was a strong tribute to his music, even though in both programs we focused on "the good stuff" and not his more popular music.

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I actually like some of the early electric material, particularly KOFI, but I had to narrow down the scope of the show for the 59-minute format.

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Don't recall the previous broadcast. Will certainly be listening! :tup

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I only have Fuego, and I love it, even if it gets bashed in the Penguin guide.

Edited by Gutrotfrenzy

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