Donald Byrd “Byrds Eye View” (1955)


Track Selection: Doug’s Blues ( long – 12:00)


Donald Byrd (tp) Joe Gordon (tp) Hank Mobley (ts) Horace Silver (p) Doug Watkins (b) Art Blakey (d) recorded Cambridge, MA, December 2, 1955


One of  Byrd’s first albums as leader at the age of 23, joined by the young 25-year-old Hank Mobley, and fellow trumpet-player Joe Gordon, ably supported by stalwarts Blakey, Silver and Watkins.  It is also a “live concert setting”, a fairly novel idea as to how to get the best performance and recording. Whilst Van Gelder would often take all his recording equipment out to Bohemia or Birdland to record a live date, on this occasion they brought a live audience into a recording studio in Cambridge Massachusetts, no doubt Harvard and MIT hep-cats diggin’ the scene, to give the musicians audience rapport. Cool idea and an improvement on the Village Vanguard clink of cutlery, and Bohemia’s boisterous drinkers. Nothing but the sound of twenty hep-cats gently stroking their goatees, and breathing the occasional Yeah. Very cool.

Vinyl: Esquire 32-013 first UK release of US Transition label TRLP4
Released in 1956 on original Transition TRLP 4, available only as the original Transition, the UK Esquire release from the same year, or seen as a Japan reissue from 1989 under the non-existent “Blue Note” label. The Esquire is a beautiful pressing, using the original Transition stampers.  With its signature RVG  handwritten initials, the recording is everything you expect of  a Van Gelder. Bright, full, cohesive, a joy to listen to. The bad news is here:

Records on the short-lived Transition label are considered genuinely rare, particularly in collectible condition, and fiercely expensive (or “valuable”, depending on which side of the buy/sell divide you sit). 1956 was early in the curve of radiogram ownership and the  microgroove unbreakable LP, lacking the corporate support of big labels like Blue Note, and these were at the time not as well-known young artists as five years later. This is not of course Transition, but equally rare Esquire. I have never seen a copy come to market before.

Esquire labels

RVG hand-written initials, original Transition catalogue number etched on the stamper


Cover yellowed by its 55 years of age

Collectors Corner

Source: eBay

Sellers Grading: “Top Copy. Beautiful. Rare in this condition”

(Collectors of CDs, modern reissues and free downloads might want to avert their eyes at this point. Post contains explicit references to money, which cheapskates may find offensive )

This record does not cross your path every day. Or every year, even. Can we talk? Lets be blunt: this was not cheap. Gentlemen don’t talk money, at least not in polite circles, but this went over my house limit. The price on eBay was set by a sniper who wanted it as much as me, a real collector with an eBay score of three hundred records, and if you are out there, na na na! I’ve had it done to me too many times to feel any sympathy. See what a heartless monster eBay turns you into?

Lao Tsu and the Art of War. A warrior’s mental preparation for battle.

From the outset, you must remain entirely focussed on your objective – which is to win this record. No near miss, no nice guys come second, you want this record.

You research its market worth in this condition carefully through Popsike, and then what you think it will actually sell for – winners will often pay more than it is worth in order to win. Has the seller called it “rare!”? Is it?  Then you think hard  what is the maximum you would be prepared to pay for it, add a bit, then add a bit more, as you wouldn’t want to lose for the sake of a few pounds.

Your mind is now entirely clear. Your destiny awaits. You type in the figure on your snipe.

Final day of auction, and it approaches high noon. The clock ticks. The streets are empty. Somewhere a dog barks, breaking the silence. Snipers check their weapons. As close approaches, the tension mounts, sweat droplets glisten on your brow, your mouth is dry. You take a final swig of whisky. Its show time.

Eyes darting both ways you quickly check that you are still in play. Sometimes it’s already through the roof, and you have to decide if you are going to walk away. This one was still sitting at £20, a fraction of its worth, meaning the real price was now down to the snipers. Serious bidders don’t bid early, they snipe in the closing seconds.You get only one shot.  The greatest risk is someone else behind a keyboard somewhere else in the world  has the same idea.

Then the final minute of countdown arrives. In the closing seconds half-dozen snipes hit  and the price on the screen leapfrogs wildly, and then it is done. Over.

And so it came about, that there was someone else with the same idea. Another bidder who was serious, knew its worth, and wanted it too. Down more to luck, the figure I decided on was slighty more than theirs. Email incoming lights up the screen. Congratulations Enjoy your record. Now it’s time to pay. 

Footnote: the Esquire sold for around one fifth of the price of an equivalent Transition.  And it’s just as “gorgeous”.

25 thoughts on “Donald Byrd “Byrds Eye View” (1955)

  1. Hi LJC,

    I have the opportunity to purchase King’s LNJ series (LNJ-70104) of Byrd’s Eye View. I think it is in stereo. Do you think the stereo version is worth buying, considering that the original recording was probably in mono?



    • That’s a Toshiba pressing. This recording was mono only and all indications are the reissue is too, why do you think it’s stereo?


      • Oh yes it’s a Toshiba. Discogs does not explicitly state this reissue as a mono, which I thought means that it’s a stereo? So I presume it’s a wrong description by Discogs?


  2. Dear LJC. I am confused about the RVG stamp. As this was apparently recorded in Boston using their to quote the cover. “Arnie Ginsberg, the great boston recording engineer…” Did RVG go to Boston? Is the RVG some other initials formthis Ginsberg figure…did RVG do the mastering perhaps? Help…


    • In the early days of Blue Note, there was a great deal of already material recorded in the late ’40s and early ’50s, which had been issued on shellac or 10″, which Van Gelder later re-mastered for 12″ LP. The material was not recorded by Van Gelder, but his initials on the run-out signify his hand in mastering, not necessarily as original sound engineer.

      With stuff recorded around this time you are a hostage to who engineered it, what microphones did they used, what kind of tape. Often it was radio station studios which were well kitted out. With Rudy preparing the master for 12″ LP, you are assured you are hearing the original at its best.


  3. Though I had known about these recordings for quite some time, I had never really listened to them until recently. What a delight to find that “Hank’s Other Tune” is, in fact, the first recorded version of “Late Show”, which was recorded by the same line-up (=Jazz Messengers) four months later. “Hank’s Tune” also sounds familiar.


      • LJC: you are totally wrong. no reason at all to be envious. Your Esquire is a beauty, and the sound is much better than any mint Transition you could possibly find. I am comparing the Esquire and the Jazz Sélection. The sound of the latter is crispier. Both covers are excellent. I cannot decide which one I prefer. So each stays where it belongs, one in the Brits’ masterclass (thanks to Dobell’s), the other with the Frenchies.


        • You have to own one to know this. Thank you for your insight, as always, I feel better already. It is one of the ironies of collecting, when sometimes original is not best. Also when the price reflects being rare rather than being good. We have all made mistakes along the way, hopefully we learn from them, pass on the knowledge to others.


          • The Transition is RVG etched as well. Not sure why Rudolf thinks they sound worse? It doesn’t even sound like he has heard the Transition Byrd’s Eye View.


            • To AA: Actually, I have not heard the Transition now under discussion, but I have several Transition originals which are all pressed on hard, inflexible bakélite, under the guise of vinyl and they just don’t sound good.
              Between Transitions and Esquires, in terms of care for detail and the pursuit of top quality of all the materials used, the balance is clearly in favour of Esquire. But this is just my opinion.


  4. I was reading your last post about the gorgeous Prestige/Esquire records and realized that I have a copy of Byrd’s Eye View on the Vogue/Jazz Selection label. It is a original Transition record with TRLP-J-4-A 30 written in the dead wax.
    Found a copy on Collectorsfrenzy that sold for maybe twenty times cheaper than the original Transition copy. Only difference is the label and cover. Ofcourse I would prefer the Transition copy, but if you can find it, the Vogue is the only reasonable priced copy.

    Unfortunately I have only the record and not the sleeve of this one. But it’s still a nice item to have.

    Thanks for another great post about some of the best things to do in life with your clothes on: collecting jazz records.


  5. beautiful description of last bidding minutes: I’ve got 2 out of 3 Byrd on Transition, TRLP 4 and 17. I’m still looking for TRLP 5.
    maybe tomorrow.


  6. OK> So it looks like I wasn’t the other bidder after all. Looks like I wasn’t even close. … Oh well, one day I can wish to play with the big boys. LOL.


    • In collecting jazz, the journey from short trousers to long trousers is just one decimal place. We are neither playing among the big beasts, where the journey is closer to two decimal places.


      • Yep – there certainly seems to be a disproportionate amount of very wealthy people collecting jazz…. Unfortunately!


    • Yeah, I used to get that, but a buzz wasn’t the only thing I got with my last free download, it was the virus that brought down my machine. So far I haven’t caught anything unpleasant from vinyl, “touch wood”


  7. londonjazzcollector: I think I may have been the other bidder on this one! Lucky for you I was bidding on several other items that night and this one came up last, so the central bank was not as replete with promissory notes as I would have liked.. …. Nice cover and it obviously sounds very nice. Congrats. Maybe we can do a swap sometime. 🙂


  8. I haven’t actually followed my own snipes in the last few seconds, since so far the auction would always close in the middle of the night my time. Still the rush you feel when you open that email in the morning that says that you won is very enjoyable, say: addictive. And as with every addiction, ‘it’ll cost ya’ 😀


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