Donald Byrd (1932-2013)

Donald Byrd died last Monday. I’ve been a big fan of his for years.

The first time I heard of him was when my friend Colin gave me a split CD with Donald Byrd’s Up and Grant Green’s His Majesty King Funk. That CD actually introduced me to both of those guys and it was a pretty big musical moment since it opened the door to the world of 60′s funky soul jazz.

My favorite album of his might be Ethiopian Knights, which was also originally given to me by another good friend years ago. This album was more electric and exploratory and really really good. After Knights, Byrd’s music got smoother and more R&B influenced as the albums went on until he eventually went pretty much all out disco, which was the path of many jazz musicians at the time to try to make money.

My last (and possibly still current?) band, Cadillac Club, covered “Weasil” from Byrd’s Fancy Free album. We never really got it totally right, but it was fun to play. I think the original studio recording of “Weasil” featured Pittsburgh native Jimmy Ponder on guitar. I’ve seen him at jazz nights around town in the last few years and he still sounds great.

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