“Donald Byrd and the Power of Music Instruction Inside and Outside Our Public Schools” An Essay by Mark Naison

byrd_donald_caricatur_FBLike the rest of the music World, we are mourning the loss of Jazz legend Donald Byrd, who died yesterday at the age of 80.  While his music will always be with us, his death highlights the loss of a tradition of music education and artistic appreciation.  We thank Brooklynite and political activist, Kevin Powell, for sharing this important article by Mark Naison, who is a Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program. Enjoy.

from WithaBrooklynAccent:

I just found out that the great jazz trumpeter, composer and music innovator Donald Byrd passed away. I am devastated by this news, not only because Donald Byrd owned a brownstone on the Park Slope block to which I moved in 1976, but because Donald Byrd was a central figure in the musical history of the Bronx, which I discovered when doing oral histories for the Bronx African American History Project. In the 1950’s, Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock got an apartment together on Boston Road and 164th Street in the Bronx in Morrisania, which was then the Bronx’s largest and most vital Black neighborhood. Byrd was then working as a music teacher at Berger JHS near St Mary’s Park, a common destiny for great musicians during a time when NYC middle schools and high schools had bands and orchestras and hundreds of instruments which students with talent could take home to practice. During his years in the Bronx, Byrd mentored many talented young r musicians, among them jazz trumpeter Jimmy Owens, who took private lessons from Byrd, and salsero and trombone player Willie Colon, who was his student at Berger JHS. But the most amazing Byrd story has to do with his role in the recording of Mongo Santamaria’s “Watermelon Man.” One day, in the early 1960’s, Mongo Santamaria called up Herbie Hancock and asked him to sit in as a pianist with Mongo’s band, which was then performing at Club Cubano InterAmericano on Prospect Avenue, a popular Latin music spot.

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