Trumpeter/bandleader Donald Byrd began his career as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers while still pursuing his master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. Upon graduating from both institutions, Byrd played with John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and a host of jazz’s finest leaders. By 1958, he was leading his own quintet. Twenty years later, however, much had changed for Byrd and the sound of jazz. After a nearly twenty-year association with the venerable Blue Note label (following stints with Transition, Prestige and others), Byrd decamped for Elektra Records. The title of Thank You…For F.U.M.L. (Funking Up My Life) made it clear that this was a “new” Donald Byrd sound. His Elektra years have been newly anthologized by Big Break Records on the 2-CD, 31-track Love Has Come Around: The Elektra Records Anthology 1978-1982.
Though accomplished in the hard bop idiom, Byrd had been an early adopter of jazz fusion, first employing an electric keyboard on 1970’s Fancy Free and cementing his role in so-called “acid jazz” thanks to such triumphant LPs as Ethiopian Knights before moving onto jazz-funk with Fonce and Larry Mizell on 1973’s best-selling Black Byrd. On the five albums he made with the Mizell brothers through 1976, Byrd embraced soul and R&B textures, and as producer, he even spun off a successful R&B group in The Blackbyrds, a group of students from Howard University. Never content to rest on his laurels, musical or otherwise, Byrd – then teaching music at Howard – completed his law degree from the university in 1976.
Byrd’s fusion of jazz, funk, soul, R&B, and disco all found full flower at Elektra. Love Has Come Around features a version of every one of the tracks from his four long-players for the label, in album, single and extended mixes. After getting off to a breezy start with F.U.M.L., arranged by Motown veteran Wade Marcus and featuring vocals on one track by the great Syreeta, Byrd formed his 125th Street, N.Y.C. Band. Their eponymous debut, from 1979, was once again arranged by Marcus and embraced styles from disco to straight-ahead soul balladry. Two years passed before the busy Byrd – still teaching and learning; he would gain his PhD in Music Education from Columbia University in 1982 – released his next Elektra platter.
Love Byrd was a collaborative effort with Stax maestro Isaac Hayes. The Hot Buttered Soul leader brought his singular touch as songwriter, producer, arranger-orchestrator, and vocalist, and resulted in Byrd’s biggest R&B hit – the No. 15 “Love Has Come Around,” which lends BBR’s collection its title. Though the trumpeter’s presence was ironically small on the dance jam, he had other chances on the LP to show his virtuosity. Hayes and Byrd proved an imaginative pairing, even if there’s little the venerable tunesmith Cole Porter would have recognized had he lived to hear their uptempo take on his “Love for Sale.” Byrd and 125th Street’s final Elektra LP, Words, Sounds, Colors and Shapes, continued the Byrd/Hayes partnership. “Sexy Dancer,” a top 40 R&B chart entry, was the artist’s most contemporary production yet, fully embracing the smooth and metallic eighties pop aesthetic on tracks like “So Much in Love.” Byrd didn’t take his role in the group lightly, as his solos became less of a focal point and he contented himself with playing as part of a sleek if still funky ensemble.
Following Words, Sounds, Colors and Shapes, Byrd returned to academia and took a recording hiatus. He returned late in the decade with Harlem Blues, his first album for Landmark Records. By the time of his death in 2013 at the age of 80, Byrd had taught at colleges including Rutgers, New York University, Queens College, Oberlin College, Cornell University, Delaware State University, and more; he also returned to a more traditional jazz sound in his later years after decades of experimentation. His 2000 album Touchstone found him joined by Pepper Adams, Teddy Charles, Jimmy Cobb, Laymon Jackson, and Herbie Hancock – whom Byrd had been the first at Blue Note to employ years earlier.
Love Has Come Around has not been sequenced chronologically, but rather with a DJ’s expert ear for feel, mood and flow, by compilation producer Wayne A. Dickson. Nick Robbins and Dickson have handled the sound, while Malcolm McKenzie has contributed a fine historical essay putting these key years of Byrd’s remarkable career in perspective. Byrd’s crossover period at Elektra may not get as much attention as his pioneering work with the Mizell brothers at Blue Note, but this compendium of feel-good, danceable and gleaming grooves – played impeccably by a jazz master – should go a long way in changing that. Love Has Come Around is available now at the links below!
- Sexy Dancer
- Love Has Come Around
- Loving You
- I Love You
- Star Trippin’
- Love for Sale
- Giving It Up
- In Love with Love
- Have You Heard the News
- People Suppose to Be Free
- Your Love is My Ecstasy
- High Energy
- So Much in Love
- Thank You for Funking Up My Life (12-Inch Disco Version)
- Pretty Baby
- I Love Your Love
- Close Your Eyes and Look Within
- Forbidden Love
- Cristo Redentor
- Gold the Moon, White the Sun
- I’ll Always Love You
- Sunning in Your Love Shine
- I Feel Like Loving You Today (Single Version)
- I’m Coming Home
CD 1, Tracks 1, 5, 9, 13, 16 and CD 2, Tracks 5, 12 & 15 from Words, Sounds, Shapes and Colors, Elektra LP 9 60188-1, 1982
CD 1, Tracks 2, 6, 15 and CD 2, 3, 9, 11 & original version of Track 14 from Love Byrd, Elektra LP 6E-531, 1981
CD 1, Tracks 3, 8, 10, 12 and CD 2, original version of Track 1, Tracks 4, 7 & 13 from Thank You…For F.U.M.L. (Funking Up My Life), Elektra LP 6E-114, 1978
CD 1, Tracks 4, 7, 11, 14 and CD 2, Tracks 2, 6, 8 & 10 from Donald Byrd and 125th Street, N.Y.C., Elektra LP 6E-247, 1979