Our final exposition of the year heads to the many places and spaces invented and extended by the late Donald Byrd.
Throughout the year, our In Hip-Hop and Beyond series explored some of music’s most impactful sampling legacies, from the all-out ubiquitous to the deceptively prevalent. And the cap on 2018’s season is a tip-of-the-hat to seminal jazz trumpeter, Donald Byrd.
The transcendent arranger, composer, and thread between all eras and styles, was born in Detroit, quickly rising through the ranks of prestigious ensembles. By the age of 20, Byrd was the go-to horn for every heavy-hitter in NYC’s blooming bebop battalion. He struck a singular note with Herbie Hancock, mentoring the prodigious pianist through a range of contentious career decisions, from contract negotiations with label execs to placements in big-ticket bands. Hancock went on to become a face on jazz’s Mt. Rushmore, but anyone with any sense might put Byrd’s broad-jawed punim right there beside him.
And through all of its notable phases, Byrd could be found not far from the front lines. As jazz crept towards the voltage, Byrd was dancing on powerlines. As fusion became more than a catch-all for accessible and funk-infused compositions, Byrd was gliding onto the charts with melodies and rhythms unheard in the work of his contemporaries. By the time the singularity approached, the imminent emergence of hip-hop and its growing sophistication, Byrd had not only embraced it, but joined one of the genre’s first live bands, shaping two installments of Jazzmatazz — the solo projects of Gangstarr MC, Guru — and provided hip-hop with crucial sources of spiritual, frenetic, funk-forward sample fodder well beyond its Golden Age.
In celebration of what would have been the pioneer’s 86th birthday, we’re exploring his timeless touch in the final In Hip-Hop and Beyond sequence of the year. Hear ferocious flips from Madlib, J Dilla, MF DOOM, Pete Rock, The Alchemist, Erykah Badu, DJ Premier, and so many more. Hit the link to subscribe to Okayplayer’s Spotify channel and catch up on previous installments of the playlist series.