Two of my best recieved posts this past year have revolved around Dr. Donald Byrd, and his protoge Kevin Toney. Dr. Byrd passed in Febuary of this year, but last year, I had the privilege of meeting keyboardist Kevin Toney of the Blackbyrds and seeing him perform Blackbyrds music at Yoshi’s Oakland. That was a very fun experience because I’ve long been a fan of the Blackbyrds and though some might have memories of the group buried way back in the recesses of their mind, I know many for whom the group was central to their experience of a certain time and place. Kevin himself was very personable and very encouraging
to us in our endeavors as well.
This past weekend, Kevin Toney came to Yoshi’s, the San Francisco edition in the revitalized Filmore district, with a dynamite band, in order to perform the music of Donald Byrd. This project has particular resonance in being lead by Kevin Toney, since he both participated in Donald Byrd’s music, as well as had the benefit of Donald Byrd overseeing his music with the Blackbyrds. The band he brought in was excellent, with a front line consisting of Gary Bartz and Nicolas Payton, on saxophones and trumpet, respectively. Gary Bartz is a legendary saxophonist, one of those who took part in expanding Jazz’s audience in the ’70s. I remember him from my bootleg video tapes of Miles Davis electric band, a slim young lightskinned brother with a beard and no mustache, underneath a towering Afro. I remember him playing long improvisations on the soprano sax, with that Coltrane type of spirit. I told him I was a fan of other works such as “Music is My Sanctuary”, and the “Drinking Song”, which he told me Erykah Badu was a big fan of and performs. It was beautiful to get the chance to hear him play, a great musician who has worked with so many great musicians, not the least of which my hero Miles Davis.
Mr. Nicholas Payton is one of those young lions of the trumpet, well known in improvisational circles. He played trumpet with a bright, powerful tone and even gave us some of those good ol New Orleans growls, the kind that cats like Bubber Miley, Buddy Bolden and King Oliver used to give us. Dressed in all black, Payton’s stage demeanor was serious, a bad cat there to play.
The rhythm section was excellent as well, and not to be overlooked. Guitarist Charles Julian Fearing was once the lead singer for Ray Parker Jr’s Raydio, and also producer of such timeless classics as Debarge’s “All this Love.” He told us a great story about the production of that song that will air on Soul School Television in the next few weeks. His razor sharp guitar licks did the Saturday night however, as he locked into the James Brownish rhythm guitar part on the Blackbyrd’s classic “Rock Creek Park.”
Michael Bradford protected the low end of the music like a Funky Doberman, reanimating funky bass lines played by bss players such as Chuck Rainey. I was especially pleased when they went into one of my favorite bass lines in the world, Donald Byrd’s classic “(Fallin Like) Dominoes”, which Kevin Toney told the audience was most likely Donald Byrd’s biggest black radio hit. Rayford Griffen kept time well but he also got to do much more than that with thunderous solo’s of his own.
It was also great again to see and enjoy Ms. Dominique Toney’s performance with the band. She delivered vocals on the Donald Byrd classic’s “Christo Redentor” and “Think Twice”. It hits me in a speical spot in particular when she does “Think Twice.” Dominique’s got a great stage presence and charisma when she performs. She is on the verge of releasing her album, and you will definitely hear more about it here.
Kevin Toney himself got to shine in a more straight ahead jazz context and it was enjoyable to hear him comp and solo on a grand piano as well as the Korg Triton.
Afterwards we were able to hang with the band and discuss music and life and record some interviews that were just golden, both for their vibes and for the history we were able to get down. We had both legends, and youth, great interviews with Kevin Toney, Gary Bartz, and Charles Julian Fearing that dealt with various realms of music legend, and interviews with Dominique Toney and Kevin Toney’s assistant Norris Barnes, that give a sneak preview of somethings in musics present and future. All in all it was an excellent experience and I hope the band can continue on giving tribute to the music of Donald Byrd!