‘Fancy Free’: Donald Byrd Gets On The Jazz Fusion Groove

Recorded in May and June 1969, the album made its debut on Billboard’s Best Selling Jazz LPs chart on January 3, 1970.

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Donald Byrd artwork: UMG
Donald Byrd artwork: UMG

Jazz trumpet virtuoso Donald Byrd was already nearly 15 years into his career as a frontman, and a decade into his relationship with the lauded Blue Note label, when he and his admirable band released the album Fancy Free. Comprising four lengthy pieces and recorded in May and June 1969, it made its debut on Billboard’s Best Selling Jazz LPs chart on January 3, 1970.

Such was the generosity and easy-going manner of the front man that the 12-minute opening track didn’t feature Byrd’s own spectacular trumpet solo until a good four minutes in, even on a piece he composed himself. Flautist Jerry Dodgion and sax player Frank Foster each took the spotlight first, then Duke Pearson weighed in with a nimble electric piano solo.

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The influence of Miles Davis on the sound was plain to hear, as Byrd moved from the hard bop style he‘d been known for to more of a jazz fusion approach. He also wrote the second track, the appealing “I Love The Girl,” while the second side of the LP featured “The Uptowner,” written by Mitch Farber, and “Weasil” by Charles Hendricks.

Fancy Free didn’t reach Billboard’s all-genre album chart, but it went on to a No.7 peak on the jazz listings and, in February 1970, flickered for two weeks at No.50 on the magazine’s R&B LP countdown. Byrd had only made the pop album chart with one previous Blue Note release, 1964’s A New Perspective, but he would return strongly from 1973 onwards.

Listen to Blue Note’s Donald Byrd: The Finest playlist.

He hit the Top 40 with both Black Byrd and Street Lady, as he also also enjoyed great success with his group project on the Fantasy label, the Blackbyrds. Founded in Washington and featuring Byrd among four core members, they would score three gold albums and the undying hit single “Walking In Rhythm.”

Buy or stream Fancy Free.



  1. Dana Scott

    January 4, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    Interesting ‘transitional’ album DB, not so sure Miles was really the motivating force here since it was recorded and released before Bitches Brew and doesn’t really sound all that much like any of MD’s work of the period.

  2. Tony

    January 7, 2018 at 10:06 am

    More akin to In A Silent Way than Bitches Brew to my ears but Byrd’s was still the earlier recording.

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