Donald Byrd • Byrd in Paris

Brunswick/Sam Records 87903
180-gram LP



Donald Byrd • Parisian Thoroughfare

Brunswick/Sam Records 87904
180-gram LP



by Guy Lemcoe | March 20, 2015

rom the selection of material to the quality of the remastering, the outstandingly flat and quiet Pallas pressings (even duplicating the flat edge common to early vinyl) and the crisp artwork, these albums are true labors of love for Fred Thomas, owner of the Sam Records label. It was a pleasure to simply hold the classic "flipback" jackets in my hands and admire the beautiful color photos of 25-year-old trumpeter Donald Byrd reading Le Figaro or dipping into an order of French fries (with a side of mustard!). It was equally pleasurable to listen to the quintet captured on these monaural recordings as they performed before a very excited audience of Parisians at L’Olympia music hall in October 1958.

While still a student at the Manhattan School of Music in the 1950s, Byrd was hired to replace Kenny Dorham in Art Blakely’s Jazz Messengers. His jazz pedigree was well earned. After leaving the Jazz Messengers he worked with many of the rising jazz stars of the '50s, including Gigi Gryce, Jackie McLean, Mal Waldron and, later on, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, as well as Thelonious Monk and Herbie Hancock (whom he mentored). He was a busy educator as well, teaching at several well-known East Coast colleges and universities. Some say he lost his way in the 1970s with a string of unashamedly commercial releases. He redeemed himself, however, in the following decades with a return to his jazz roots.

These recordings catch Byrd leading his quintet of relative unknowns and rising stars -- Bobby Jaspar on tenor sax and flute, Walter Davis, Jr. on piano, Doug Watkins on bass and Art Taylor on drums -- during their tour over a half-century ago, including appearances at Cannes, a Belgian seaside resort and a Paris nightclub.

It is clear why the audience at L’Olympia was so enthusiastic. Byrd in Paris leads off with the traditional Swedish folk song/jazz staple "Dear Old Stockholm." Jaspar shines on this tune and threatens to upstage Byrd, who is convincing as a clone of Clifford Brown. The rhythm section is as solid as a rock, and once everyone reaches a mike, the recording balances and captures the proceedings with fine sound, especially Taylor’s tasteful drum licks. "Paul’s Pals," a Sonny Rollins tune, follows, with the ensemble loping along in a mellow, laid-back mood. Side two features Jaspar on flute in his "Flute Blues." Byrd lays out on this one, letting Jaspar demonstrate his chops. "Ray’s Idea" is given trio treatment with Walter Davis playing over a firm foundation laid down by Watkins and Taylor. Clifford Brown’s barn-burning "The Blues Walk" ends the LP on an upbeat note, with everyone soloing beautifully.

Parisian Thoroughfare continues from L’Olympia with a rousing take on Dizzy Gillespie’s "Salt Peanuts." Next, the simulated sounds of the Parisian streets lend atmosphere to the title song and, once past the cacophony, it settles into a mellow groove. Unfortunately, the next song, "Star Dust," ends abruptly due to a recording glitch, but not before Byrd’s lovely tone, style and articulation demonstrate why he became a major headliner on the jazz scene. Thelonious Monk’s "52nd Street Theme" is given a delightfully swinging treatment, but the next tune, "At This Time," catches fire. Everyone is on his toes here and solo accordingly, with Art Taylor’s drumming being especially riveting. A Walter Davis Jr. original, "Formidable," features everyone having a good time on a mainstream swinger. Another jazz staple, "Two Bass Hit," is given trio treatment, showcasing Taylor’s drum skills. A short reprise of "Salt Peanuts" wraps things up and ends the LP.

In the words of one of the concert presenters, Frank Ténot, "This is jazz -- a perpetual discovery made in common, a creation in the moment developed in the fire of enthusiasm." Anyone interested in modern jazz from the latter half of the last century and the art and science of record manufacturing should own at least one Sam Records release. Your collection will be immeasurably enriched. With near-mint originals of these albums going for hundreds of dollars on the collectors market, if you’re a Donald Byrd fan or just appreciate intelligent modern jazz, the buying decision is easy to make.

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