These lecture notes were taken by Ken Soapes for Music 331A "History of Jazz" taught by Professor Joe Brazil.
Monday, April 8, 1974
Today in class we were fortunate to have Donald Byrd as a guest lecturer. Mr. Brazil and he grew up together and played together in Detroit. He left for New York when he was 18. Since that time he has played with a number of jazz artists such as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane (with whom he has done many albums), and Herbie Hancock who he helped introduce to the scene. Dr. Byrd has had a very diverse past - besides being a musician he has also been an airplane pilot, a law student; he studied in Europe for four years, attended law school, is currently head of the Black Music Studies Department for the School of Music at Howard University, and is one of the foremost historians on Black Music and its ramification in society.
Directly before coming to class Dr. Byrd was notified by promoters that the concert he flew out from the East Coast to do had been cancelled.
Dr. Byrd, as noted above, has become highly educated by the standards of Western academia. He stated that he was put on the defensive by the "standards" of the academic society and had to become the "Super-Nigger." He has now grown tired of that game. Henry B. Durham once asked him why he said "Shit" all the time because he should know better with the advantage of so much education. Byrd's reply was that he does it because he does know better. He stated he has been uptight for 40 years and if he makes other people uptight that will be too bad. Academia in his eyes is an extension of Western philosophy.
He read briefly from an article in the L.A. Times, "Irish Americans: Why They Are the Way They Are." The article explained that all Irishmen are professional Irishmen, they all are a credit to their race, etc. The same applies to Mr. Byrd as a Black. Mr. Byrd wonders why Afro-American or Black endeavors in almost any field are questioned. Art music is taken as "serious music" as opposed to Black music. Art schools and their pretense to professionalism are made of the same people propagating the same dumb ideas. Byrd attaches a dollar to every note and he is dead serious about all his music. The teaching and professional aspects of these schools is just the bullshit that only after you've been through it and gotten your piece of paper you are their equals. Members of the music faculty were invited to discuss or debate Dr. Byrd's viewpoint, but none attended.
Blackness is up for grabs in this country. If a person isn't expert at anything else, they can always do that. Anybody is qualified to criticize Black Music but Black musicians aren't asked to criticize any other person's music not even their own. Some of these people believe that Blacks are of lower moral character because of absence of father in home and other monihaw bullshit. But he says if anyone thinks he doesn't have a father they should try to mess with his mama. There are no porno shops in the Black neighborhoods, no Black porno movies, no wife swapping clubs. If it is racism that gives rise to these ideas it should be called racism.
Dr. Byrd has been to such schools as Rutgers, Columbia, N.Y.U., and Brooklyn College. During those times he wrote only on Blackness. For example in one paper he discussed the possibilities of Beethoven being Black. He just presented facts and made no conclusions. In Europe, race isn't recorded on birth certificates because racism isn't as prevalent. Beethoven is described as having a dark complexion with long dark curly hair in a land where indigenous peoples are fair. He traced migration of Blacks to Europe. The Concerto in A Major is dedicated to a Black West Indian, one of the few people Beethoven could get along with. He received an A+ on the paper. He is rarely invited to colleges now because of the way he speaks.
People think they choose the music they like but they are wrong. Industry chooses it and the people have no choice in what they will hear. Byrd would like to write more on the communications industry but it is a very dangerous topic to discuss. The truth can't be fathomed by some and others don't even want to hear it. He suggests that the licenses in the industry be reviewed every two years so people can raise hell and force the music they'd like to hear to be played.
Dr. Byrd's father was a Methodist minister and instilled a sense of racial pride in him at an early age. He read J. A. Rodgers Man and Superman and 100 Facts About the Negro. He is considered a quack by many who prefer the viewpoints of such people as Shockley and his twisted interpretations of "Statistical Data," to which Byrd says there are statistics, more statistics and damn lies; or history is a lie that everyone agrees upon.