I never quiet understood why Donald Byrd was criticized when he recorded his infamous albums in 1981 and 1982 which were produced by Isaac Hayes. Sell-out was the quote of the day and yet, his 1981 album “Love Byrd” for me belongs to my all-time favorite top ten albums. The album starts with an eight-minute soul/disco classic that I first heard on Radio Luxemburg back then and got me so excited that I had to check all of his albums out. The lushness of “Love Has Come Around” was created by composer William Duckett, who was Byrd’s guitarist for the three albums he recorded with the 125th Street, N.Y.C. Band, and of course Isaac Hayes. Hayes also added two tracks to this masterpiece, “I Feel Like Loving You Today” among them, which hasn’t been topped in sexiness up to this day.
The crew even dared to record a new version of Cole Porter‘s “Love For Sale” which has a vocal arrangement (by Isaac Hayes) which is simply out of this world (the background vocals came from Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul Unlimited). “I Love Your Love” is another one of those timeless pieces which by the way, features a young Albert “Chip” Crawford, Jr. on keyboards and piano who is working with a certain Gregory Porter these days.
Byrd had just ended his stint with the Blackbyrds, the group he founded with fellow students from Howard University in Washington which scored a few hits like “Rock Creek Park” or “Walking In Rhythm” with the Mizell Brothers as producers. Of course, Byrd started out his career in the 50s as one of the most sought-after hard-bop trumpeters with musicians like Pepper Adams or Gigi Gryce. He also worked with John Coltrane and introduced a young Herbie Hancock to the world.
Hancock is the featured pianist of the album “A New Perspective” (cover pictured here) which consisted of five pieces by a choir directed by Coleridge Perkinson with haunting arrangements by Duke Pearson. Kenny Burrell and Hank Mobley were also among the musicians.
But coming back to his late 70s/early 80s period, Byrd started his foray into soul/disco with the 1978 “Thank You For Funking Up My Life” which features Wah Wah Watson, Syreeta Wright and Angela Winbush. A year later, his “And 125th Street,N.Y.C.” came out which he also produced like the one before. Ernie Watts, Pete Christlieb, or Clare Fischer were among the musicians. And then came the two Isaac Hayes albums, of which the latter, 1982’s “Word, Sounds, Colors And Shapes” didn’t match the grandiose Love Byrd. It took five years before he recorded again, this time he was back with his dynamic bop playing on the Landmark album “Harlem Blues”.
In the meantime he recieved his Ph.D. from Columbia Teachers College and he recorded with Guru’s Jazzmatazz in the 90s. He would have been 82 today. Donald Byrd died on February 4th, 2013.