Monday, February 11, 2013

Piénsalo dos veces

Donald Byrd (1932-2013)
Donald Byrd

The death of legendary hard bop trumpeter and composer Donald Byrd last Monday has got me revisiting some of my favorite Byrd tunes, which either have been sampled by hip-hop artists or were collabos with the late Guru as part of the rapper's Jazzmatazz series. Heads like myself are more familiar with Byrd's jazz-funk/Mizell Brothers/Blackbyrds period than his hard bop period because the former was what beatmakers often loved to shape their tunes from. According to the liner notes of Blue Note's '90s Blue Break Beats series (a bunch of compilations that are a great introduction to the sounds of Byrd and other jazz legends), "The Byrd man is the most sampled of all Blue Note artists."

Producer J-Swift memorably sampled Byrd's 1967 track "Beale Street" in the Pharcyde's "Oh Shit," which kicks off one of my all-time favorite hip-hop albums from start to finish, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, an enjoyable (and self-deprecating, which was rare in hip-hop back then) masterwork that celebrated the 20th anniversary of its release late last year. But the Byrd track I'm fondest of is the gorgeous tune "Think Twice."

The 1974 recording was all over early '90s R&B radio--thanks to Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam and Main Source--and was frequently covered by the likes of the late J Dilla (whose birthday happened to be celebrated on Twitter when news of Byrd's death spread) and the Norwegian downtempo group Ralph Myerz and the Jack Herren Band. Myerz's badass 2003 cover memorably turns up during the scene where Chris Marquette and a pre-Little Miss Sunshine Paul Dano pretend to be porn directors at a Vegas porn convention in Elisha Cuthbert's The Girl Next Door.

And now, the various permutations of "Think Twice."

Byrd composed only one film score, for the 1975 basketball flick Cornbread, Earl and Me, the film debut of a One Life to Live child actor named "Laurence Fishburne III," who, in his Billy Batson-colored football jersey, looks nothing at all like Morpheus (or Cowboy Curtis). Some of the Blackbyrds' instrumentals from Cornbread have turned up on Spotify. The best of these is "At the Carnival."

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