Donald Byrd and the Art of Education


Man sitting in barber chair blowing a trumpet.

2000 NEA Jazz Master Donald Byrd. Photo courtesy of Keith Killgo


Audio Tabs

People casually toss out the phrase “a gentleman and a scholar,” but rarely does the trope fit the recipient like it does with the late, great NEA Jazz Master Donald Byrd. When he died in 2013 he had six graduate degrees—including a law degree from Howard University—and was angling for nine. And perhaps the most admirable part of his insatiable thirst for education was his desire to share what he learned. In addition to teaching, Byrd started jazz studies programs at three colleges, including the prestigious program at Howard University in Washington, DC. It was at Howard where he founded, shaped, and produced the inimitable band the Blackbyrds, a significant component of his legacy. The band blew up in the 1970s with monster hits like “Rock Creek Park” and “Happy Music.” Eventually, their run came to an end until drummer Keith Killgo got the band back together in 1999. They put out Gotta Fly in 2012 and recently toured in London.

In this audio piece, we’ll hear about Byrd’s impact from Killgo, who Byrd courted to attend Howard and then mentored in the Blackbyrds. Threaded throughout Killgo’s commentary, you get to hear interview excerpts of Donald Byrd himself. The sound comes from an archival interview conducted by James Graves for Pacifica Radio.