Donald Byrd, a renowned jazz trumpeter known for his innovative style, died February 4, at 80-years-old, the Associated Press reports. He got his start at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School, before playing in military bands in the Air Force.
Byrd signed to Blue Note Records in 1958, teaming with saxophonist Pepper Adams to release their label debut, “Off to the Races,” in 1959. He was also a noted jazz educator, receiving a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, and being the first person to teach jazz at Rutgers University.
When Byrd released “Black Byrd,” a mix of jazz, R&B and funk, critics panned him for not going the traditional jazz route that had been followed in the past. “I’m creative; I’m not re-creative,” he said, “I don’t follow what everybody else does.”
In 1982, Byrd moved from performing to teaching, creating a curriculum called Math + Music (equals) Art. It allowed him to teach math and music simultaneously, by turning numbers into music. “I can take any series of numbers and turn it into music, from Bach to bebop, Herbie Hancock to hip-hop,” he said.
In his later years, Byrd made sporadic appearances on rap albums, last recording in 1993 for “Jazzmataxx, Vol. 1.” His music has been sampled on over 100 hip-hop songs from the likes of Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, and more. In the year 2000, he was recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts as a Jazz Master, the highest jazz honor the nation gives.