I’m going way back today on Throwback Thursday. Back to 1975 when the song Places and Spaces was released. This song was performed by Donald Byrd and you can find it on the Places and Spaces cd.
He was also a music teacher, teaching at Howard University, Rutgers University and Hampton University. It was at Howard University where he created the group The Blackbyrds. Some of the popular Blackbyrds songs include Rock Creek Park, Walking in Rhythm and Happy Music.
Mr. Byrd, a strong advocate of music education, spent much of the 1960s teaching. Then, in 1973, he made a surprising transition to pop stardom with the album “Black Byrd,” produced by the brothers Larry and Fonce Mizell, who had been his students at Howard University in Washington. With Mr. Byrd’s restrained licks (he played both trumpet and fluegelhorn) layered over an irresistible funk groove seasoned with wah-wah guitar and simple, repeated lyrics (“Get in the groove, just can’t lose”), “Black Byrd” reached the Billboard Top 100, where it peaked at No. 88.
Mr. Byrd was hardly the first jazz musician to try such a crossover: Miles Davis had achieved a similar musical synthesis with “Bitches Brew” three years earlier. But “Black Byrd,” unlike “Bitches Brew,” was overtly pop-oriented, and its success was extremely rare for a jazz musician. It became, and for a long time remained, the best-selling album in the history of Blue Note Records, the venerable jazz label for which Mr. Byrd had been recording since the 1950s.
“Then the jazz people starting eating on me,” Mr. Byrd recalled in a 1982 radio interview. “They had a feast on me for 10 years: ‘He’s sold out.’ Everything that’s bad was attributed to Donald Byrd. I weathered it, and then it became commonplace. Then they found a name for it. They started calling it ‘jazz fusion,’ ‘jazz rock.’ ”
The criticism did not stop him from making more pop records. In addition to recording as a leader, he organized some of his Howard students into a group called the Blackbyrds and produced their records. The band had a string of hit singles in the 1970s, including “Walking in Rhythm,” which reached the Top 10 on the pop charts, and “Rock Creek Park,” which evoked late-night romance in a wooded park in Washington, D.C.
“Rock Creek Park” became something of a local anthem and one of many recordings by Mr. Byrd to be sampled by rap and hip-hop artists, including Public Enemy, Nas and Ludacris. His music and the Blackbyrds’ has been sampled more than 200 times, with the 1975 album “Places and Spaces” among his most frequently repurposed recordings, according to the Web site whosampled.com.
“They use all of the music that I did in the ’50s, ’60s and the ’70s behind people like Tupac and LL Cool J,” Mr. Byrd told students in a lecture at Cornell in 1998. “I’m into all that stuff.”
Donald Byrd passed away in 2013.
Check out the Places and Spaces video below.