formerly of Bergen
Jazz musician Donald Byrd, a leading hard-bop trumpeter of the 1950s who collaborated on dozens of albums with the leading artists of his time and later enjoyed commercial success with hit jazz-funk fusion records such as "Black Byrd," has died. The former Teaneck resident was 80.
He died Feb. 4 in Delaware, according to Haley Funeral Directors in Southfield, Mich., which is handling arrangements. It did not have details on his death.
"He was always adventurous," said Teaneck bassist and educator Rufus Reid, director of jazz studies and performance at Wayne's William Paterson University from 1979 to 1999. Reid made recordings with Mr. Byrd, including "A City Called Heaven" (1991).
"He was serious, but always fun to be with," Reid said of Mr. Byrd, who was a distinguished scholar at William Paterson. "He was very intelligent. He was one of the few jazz musicians who got a doctorate."
Mr. Byrd, whose given name was Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II, rose to national prominence when he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1955.
He soon became one of the most in-demand trumpeters on the New York scene, playing with Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.
In 1958, he formed a band with a fellow Detroit native, baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. The band became one of the leading exponents of the hard-bop style, which evolved from bebop and blended in elements of R&B, soul and gospel music.
In the 1960s, Mr. Byrd, who had received his master's degree from the Manhattan School of Music, turned his attention to jazz education. He became the first person to teach jazz at Rutgers University.
Mr. Byrd began moving toward a more commercial sound with the funk-jazz fusion album "Fancy Free" in 1969, taking a path followed by fellow trumpeters Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard. He teamed up with the Mizell brothers to release "Black Byrd" in 1973, a blend of jazz, R&B and funk that became Blue Note's highest selling album at the time.
"He never got the same recognition as Miles [Davis], but he was just as important," Reid said.
In 2000, the National Endowment for the Arts recognized Mr. Byrd as a Jazz Master, the nation's highest jazz honor.
Published in The Record/Herald News on Feb. 12, 2013