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JazzTimes 10: Essential Donald Byrd Recordings

Highlights from the catalog of an underrecognized trumpet great

2. Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, “Nica’s Dream” (The Jazz Messengers; Columbia, 1956)

By the time Byrd took the trumpet chair in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1956—the chair once occupied by Brown—he was more firmly his own man. His sound on “Nica’s Dream” is more pungent, more legato; his style is inclined toward daredevilry but tempers that impulse with careful detailing of his lines. Horace Silver, playing piano on the date, clearly thought highly of some of the details in Byrd’s solo—he paraphrases them in his own improvisation. Well before the trumpeter solos, though, he’s displayed his high-polish beauty in his lead articulation (tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley provides counterpoint) of Silver’s melody, with the slightly smoky cast that would soon become an inescapable component of the pianist’s personal musical vision. As it would be for generations of musicians to follow, the Jazz Messengers was Byrd’s finishing school, his real coming-out party.

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Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.