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JazzTimes 10: Essential Donald Byrd Recordings

Highlights from the catalog of an underrecognized trumpet great

3. John Coltrane Quintet, “Lush Life” (Lush Life; Prestige, 1961 [originally recorded January 10, 1958])

As on “Bohemia After Dark,” Byrd does beautiful work here that’s overshadowed by the giants who surround him. First of all, John Coltrane gives what is rightly regarded as one of his finest ballad performances; there’s also a truly exquisite improvisation from Red Garland (who, with Trane and bassist Paul Chambers, made up three-fifths of the Miles Davis Quintet at that time). It’s nearly the 10-minute mark before Byrd enters, but he brings with him three suspenseful, highly expressive choruses that reveal a capacity for dark undertones. At the song’s conclusion, he moves into counterpoint with Coltrane, achieving a cathartic symbiosis with Trane’s weighty melancholy. After leaving Blakey, Byrd had become one of the top-call trumpeters in New York, and “Lush Life” illustrates why.

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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.