Donald Byrd's project for his pupils turned into a seven album career that positively oozed hits while producing the soul-funk-fusion text book
Far be it for me to mention jazz trumpet legend Donald Byrd in every piece I have ever written but stone the crows if he doesn't keep popping up. This time it is in his guise as teacher of ethno-musicology at Washington's Howard University where he decided that some of his extremely talented students could do with a little bit of the limelight. Byrd had been pioneering a blend of soul-jazz fusion which had gone chart bound with the release of his Blackbyrd album produced by earlier Howard alumnus Larry Mizell. So cannily utilising the good feeling and publicity behind his own release he dutifully christened his students' band after his album, and drafted in Mizell's Sky High productions to produce their first album.
What followed was a success-.-a group who musically took their cues from the likes of Kool and The Gang and Earth Wind and Fire as much as from Byrd's own music. Within a year they had enjoyed a Top 10 Pop hit and their albums and singles were popular with clubbers and black music lovers across the globe. The hits continued through six albums and one film soundtrack leaving us with the likes of Do It Fluid, Supernatural Feeling, Rock Creek Park, the aforementioned Walking In Rhythm, Paradise Garage favourite Happy Music and so many more.
The band split up after the release of 1980's BETTER DAYS but maintained their popularity amongst the UK dance fraternity. Then later hip hop producers and artists such as Gang Starr, the Jungle Brothers and Mark the 45 King using Rock Creek Park, Blackbyrds Theme and Wilford's Gone as samples brought the band to the attention of another audience. So to today and the band have re-formed and are touring the UK throughout October after their successful comeback gigs at the Jazz Caf?© earlier in the year.
By Dean Rudland