[Review] Donald Byrd: Byrd’s Word (1956)

An early Byrd session on Savoy Records that fails to excite.

Kronomyth 2.0: A Miles is worth a thousand words.

Perfunctory. That’s the word that comes to mind. Donald Byrd and an ad hoc group assembled by Savoy Records lay down forty minutes of standard hard bop, including a few originals, on Byrd’s Word. The players include a young Paul Chambers (inexplicably credited as Dave Chambers on the back sleeve), Frank Foster (late of Count Basie’s orchestra) and the elder statesmen, Kenny Clarke and Hank Jones. The opening Winterset, a Foster original, is a snappy start, but the remaining tunes feel alternately rushed or bored.

The second track, Gotcha Goin’ and Comin’, written by Ozzie Cadena (credited here as the recording supervisor) is slow to the point of inertia. It’s a full minute or more before Byrd shows up in the song, and about four minutes more until Foster joins him. In total contrast, Byrd’s Long Green is rushed through like the studio was on fire. So much for catching a glimpse of Byrd as a composer.

For the final two tracks, the group trots out a pair of popular jazz ballads, Star Eyes and Someone to Watch Over Me. Neither version stands out in a crowded field. As a vehicle for Donald Byrd, Byrd’s Word stalls early. Maybe the group didn’t rehearse the material. Maybe they were just going through the motions to collect a paycheck. Honestly, none of the early Byrd recordings lit a fire under me like Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard did.

An original recording of this will cost you some coin so, unless you’re a collector, I’d pass on Byrd’s Word or pick it up in a compilation of his early albums. The recording quality is merely average, the performances only partially inspired, and the field of jazz trumpeters wide enough that you can let this byrd slip through your net with no regret.

Original elpee version

A1. Winterset (Frank Foster) (7:10)
A2. Gotcha Goin’ and Comin’ (Ozzie Cadena) (9:51)
B1. Long Green (Donald Byrd) (4:28)
B2. Star Eyes (Don Raye/Gene DePaul) (7:45)
B3. Someone to Watch Over Me (George & Ira Gershwin) (7:38)

The Players

Donald Byrd (trumpet), Dave (Paul) Chambers (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums), Frank Foster (tenor sax), Hank Jones (piano). Supervised by Ozzie Cadena; recording engineered by Rudy Van Gelder.

The Plastic

Originally recorded on September 29, 1955 and released on elpee in 1956 in the US (Savoy, MG-12032) and the UK (London, LTZ-C.15039).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (Savoy, KIJJ-2002).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (Savoy, COJY-9143).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1991 in Japan (Savoy, SV-0132).
  4. Re-released on 20-bit remastered compact disc in 1998 in Japan (Savoy, CY-18061).
  5. Re-released on hi-quality compact disc on October 21, 2009 in Japan (Savoy, COCB-53858).
  6. Re-packaged with Byrd’s Eye View, All Night Long and Byrd Blows on Beacon Hill on 4-for-1 2CD in 2014 in Europe (Avid Jazz).

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