PLACES & SPACES: Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II RIP

Last Monday, at the age of 80, composer, trumpeter and teacher, Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II passed away leaving us a mountain of recordings that add up to a impressively diverse and lasting legacy. As a musician who transcended generations he’ll be much missed by both the hard bop cognoscenti and a hip hop generation schooled on his samples. As I sat down to write this modest tribute I dropped ‘Christo Redentor’ from ‘New Perspective’ onto the turntable to get the vibe but right now I’m sitting here nodding out to the remix of ‘The Emperor’ from the 1971 ‘Ethiopian Night’ album. Fifteen minutes of glorious post Bitches Brew funk. The man was nothing but prolific and between those two tunes there exists a unique  journey.


Donald Byrd: Off To The Races

Dr.Donald Byrd’s jazz career commenced in 1955. Following a stint in the armed forces and his notching up a Masters at The Manhattan School Of Music he joined the crucible that was Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. It was a springboard that linked him up with the label that pretty much help define the era – Alfred Lion’s Blue Note Records – and between 1959 and 1976 he cut 24 albums for them as a leader.


As a horn player he played with all the greats and above is a lovely shot of him onstage with the mighty Sonny Rollins taken by iconic rock photographer Jim Marshall. While he more than earned his place in the lexicon of master musicians that make up the modern jazz elite it was his working relationship with Larry and Fonce Mizell that lifted him out of the world of contemporary jazz and onto dancefloors across the world. The early Seventies was, for me, a golden era of soul and funk that took the music of Black America to new heights. Think ‘What’s Going On’, Isaac Hayes’ ‘Theme from Shaft’, Parliament ‘Chocolate City’…. James Brown, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway, Al Green…Betty Wright’s ‘Clean Up Woman’…

It’s hard to think of an 80s/90s UK jazz dance session that didn’t feature a Donald Byrd tune – ‘Mustang’ to ‘Dominoes’. Similarly, the evolution of hip hop is peppered with Donald Byrd samples and following the impact of Giant Step’s Red Hot sessions in New York, in the mid Nineties, the coming together of Guru and Donald Byrd in Jazzmataazz presented a unique meeting of minds.

Donald & Guru
Dr Byrd and Guru RIP

It was one Toussaint L’ouverture who led the slave revolt that liberated Haiti in the 1790’s to create the first independent black state in the Caribbean and Donald Byrd lived up to his middle names by tirelessly working as an educator. In the the 80s, he introduced the world to his best students – The Blackbyrds – and he was “an avid and eternal student of music” and teacher until his life finally ebbed away.

OK. All you gotta do now is dig out the vinyl and enjoy what the man left behind.

Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II- December 9, 1932 – February 4, 2013.

About Paul Brad

Freelance journalist / Publisher / Editor - Straight No Chaser magazine / Editor - L FM : Broadcasting In A Pandemic - Gilles Peterson (Worldwide FM) / Publisher: From Jazz Funk & Fusion to Acid Jazz: A History Of The UK Jazz Dance Scene by Mark 'Snowboy' Cotgrove / Music Fan: Interplanetary Sounds: Ancient to Future / Cultural Event Consultant & Activist / Nei Jia practitioner
This entry was posted in Is That Jazz? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to PLACES & SPACES: Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II RIP

  1. Nickodemus says:

    Beautifully written Paul!!! & experienced!!!!

    • Paul Brad says:

      Thanks & Chinese New Years Greetings… back in the day it was Gilles and the crew that turned me onto Donald Byrd’s Mizell Brothers recordings.Those tunes – like Lonmie Liston Smith’s ‘Expansions’ – were massive on the soul boy circuit and then naturally crossed over into the jazz thing…I love the fact that we were part of his continuum…what Chaser did with the Shape Of Things To Come collaborations transferred beautifully to NYC.. it was easier for you guys cos NYC was the epicentre.. so getting Pharoah, Last Poets, Guru, Donald Byrd et al together was feasible… yeah, must dig out the VIDEO of Red Hot & Cool. Earl’s film still looked good last time I watched it. Did it ever emerge on DVD? Anyway.. what are you up to… keep me posted…take it easy… Paul Brad

  2. Tony Poole says:

    Nice piece Bradders. So many of us have been part of his journey. We all have ours stories about when we first a Byrd tune (mine was “Dominoes” back in the day). He opened a world of music for me. I did a little tribute on mixcloud featuring some of his pre-Mizell tunes >>>

  3. Anoop Rattan says:

    My god , I just listened to The Emperor, just awesome. You wrote great little piece, thanks!

    Sent from my iPad

  4. It was the mid eighties, I was still living in Paris. Outside a McDonald Restaurant on Avenue d’Italie was a bin with two vinyl albums sticking out. One was from King Curtis, the other was “125th street NYC”. The sleeves were in a sorry state. At that time I was not yet in the Soul Jazz vibe. It took me a few months to actually get them on a turntable. Instantly Wind Parade blew me away. It opened new avenues and through this very album, I started exploring a completely different sound. In France Donald Byrd was totally unknown at that time. He was until very recently. But, likewise many young Afro Americans in the US in the 60s and 70s, I became smitten. What most europeans and brits do not know about Donald Byrd is that, while at Blue Note, in the US, through his association with the Mizell Bros. he alone sold more records than all other artists put together. His brand of almost easy listening groove was extremely popular with everyday people, while more “intelectual” artists sold mainly to an elite crowd outside the US. In the 70s, the vast majority of Byrd fans in the US never bought any other Blue Note artists. He had what no other Jazz musician had : street legitimacy.

    My personal hero has passed away and I’m pissed off. Geniuses should never die 😦

  5. Pingback: Remembering Donald Byrd (1932-2013) | The Jazz Meet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.