The nature of “genius” is hard to pin down or be definitively described. The best approach to its perception may be in paraphrasing Justice Potter Stewart: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” Or hear it. With music, the aura of the artist genius is best reflected in the study of their production, the subtle vagaries of intent, and the difficulty of comprehending their full personality, which is often full of contradictory complexity. Some notable examples are Picasso’s great depictions of women juxtaposed against his notorious insensitivity to the ladies in his life; Einstein’s genius allowed the pursuit of atomic weapons but he thereafter regretted his contribution to their development; Charlie Parker’s soaring genius of improvisation resembles the chase of an elusive dragon, a beast that eventually chased him to his own grave. Yes, genius is complicated and full of enigmatic contradiction.
So it was with Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II, a paradigm of such genius, if ever there was one. Donald was a superlative trumpet player and a savvy record producer, a keen discoverer and developer of new jazz musical talent, a master educator and erudite cultural historian, a pioneer in the advancement of musician’s rights and their financial security, a connoisseur and early collector of great, fine African American visual artworks, and a sharp, even ruthless, businessman as well. A helluva cat all the way around, and a ‘real mutha fa ya.’