Donald Byrd: “Mustang!” (1966) Blue Note

Holy grail pause, back to good stuff in the more affordable bracket.

Selection 1: I’m so excited by You

Selection 2: On The Trail


Donald Byrd (trumpet) Sonny Red (alto sax) Hank Mobley (tenor sax) McCoy Tyner (piano) Walter Booker (bass) Freddie Waits (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 24, 1966

sonny-red-1966-neumannArtist of Note: Sylvester “Sonny Red” Kyner featured on four of Byrd’s albums that year, and enjoyed leader status on a number of earlier titles for Jazzland (The Mode, and Breezin’) and one Blue Note (4032 Out of the Blue). Despite this promising start, his career did not endure beyond the ’60s when jazz went into retreat. It was probably not the best career move to nickname yourself “Sonny” at the time of Rollins, Stitt, Criss and Delight.

One of Sonny Red’s first outings (then spelt Sonny Redd, not Red) was Jazz…Its Magic, a recording with Curtis Fuller for the Savoy Regent label (1958), which featured this slightly bizarre girlie cover, the first half-burqua/ half bikini to make it to an album sleeve. Maybe she was just hanging out a bedsheet on the washing line, in her bikini, when a sudden gust of wind ensnared in the sheet. but where does “magic” comes into it – red carpet tiles on the wall? Even Sonny Redd’s name is printed not in red, sympatico, but in green. Holy Reid Miles, it’s not design magic, it’s… design car-crash!

No doubt someone owns it and loves it! Own up! Competition for more plausible explanation of the model’s predicament, please.


Sonny Red disappeared into obscurity in the 70’s, and reportedly died in 1981. His only Blue Note title “Out Of The Blue” however seems very sought after today, too late to benefit him. I had bid realistically on it many times, only to see it spirited away at fancy prices: Hot!… Rare!… Deep Groove!… (heart sinks). Top auction price nearly $2,000.


blue-mitchell-sonny-red-uptown-baltimore-1966(Dr) Bob Sunenblick’s great but little-known fan-label Uptown Records also offers a taste of Sonny Red on this fascinating album, Blue Mitchell and Sonny Red, Baltimore 1966, sadly issued only on CD. Much of Uptown’s early ’80s vinyl catalogue was recorded at Englewood Cliffs and mastered by Van Gelder, and are seriously undervalued. But I digress, too many runners in this race. Get back to the featured nag, Mustang.

The star attractions riding on Byrd’s “Mustang!” are Hank Mobley and McCoy Tyner, which doesn’t get any better as a line up. Mobley yo! The CD reissue included two bonus tracks recorded in 1964 with Jimmy Heath on tenor.


Donald Byrd’s tone and timbre is vibrant and exciting, in competition with Freddie Hubbard. Lee Morgan probably surpassed both in his attack, but was soon no longer in competition, due to his girlfriend’s precise aim with a handgun. I’m happy with all three, and of course there’s always, Miles, and Woody. Not to forget Kenny Dorham. And… Booker Little, Clifford Brown… do trumpeters have shorter lives than other instrument players?

I’m always amazed how much music you can get out of a short length of tube and three valves. I sat next to someone at a dinner party recently who turned out to be a trumpet player. It is not often a good idea to ask a musician how they play their instrument. I asked him innocently how such an apparently simple instrument could play such complex lines. He explained it at length, and by the time he was all done it, must have been the dessert course, I confess I had lost interest in the answer. Embouchure, flutter-tonguing, triple tonguing, glissando, valve tremolo, I decided knowing how the trumpet was played didn’t add anything to my appreciation of its’ playing. And  a beautiful instrument it is, for reasons I won’t go into for lack of space. 

One of Byrd’s great strengths is his appreciation of the contribution of a complex brass front line. The scoring of his trumpet with Red’s energetic alto and Mobley’s nasal tenor creates great texture and solo variety. Being a commercial necessity 1966, you accept everyone treading water a little on the title track, Byrd’s attempt to achieve a hit on the level of Morgan’s “The Sidewinder.” The rest of the album is fine mainstream bop, and McCoy Tyner adds terrific propulsion to what might otherwise  be anodyne comping. A musical richness lies beneath the toothy pop-chick cover, perhaps like that under the half-draped model of Sonny Red’s first outing. It’s magic, musically, anyway.

Vinyl: Division of Liberty BST 84238 VAN GELDER mixed NY/Liberty labels

Copies are in circulation with and without Van Gelder mastering, and possibly with a different combination of labels. I paid a premium for a Van Gelder copy, which  believe is always worth it.

The interesting identifier of early Liberty provenance is the label printing. Early Liberty, which is good, look for the perfectly formed  ® below E, a characteristic of Blue Notes original print supplier, Keystone (and pressing by All-Disc). Later Liberty, under Transamerica ownership, things began to drift, not in a good way.


Several stereo label variations of “Mustang!” are on offer: Blue Note NY, Division of Liberty (both are Liberty pressings), and the  West Coast Liberty/UA black and turquoise.


However the really desirable edition is, of course, the NY mono, which is somewhat rare, possibly pressed only for radio station promo. Something similar thing happened with Impulse releases around this time: the commercial release was stereo, and the very few mono editions that exist seem to be mostly review copies destined for radio stations.

Liberty promo covers – another  digression – is mono “Mustang!” a one horse race?

Ebay seller: “Promotional Pressure (Embossment) Stamp On The Cover Clearly Identifies The Item As Promotional · Very Early Pressing Circa 1966/67 On  White And Blue Blue Note Label With A Division Of Liberty Records Inscription On The Label  Rare Mono Pressing, Many Times Rarer Than Stereo”


“The PROMOTIONAL, RADIO STATION-, AUDITION OR DEMONSTRATION COPIES AND RELEASES (above) were often distributed to radio stations before the record was released to the public, sometimes as much as four months ahead. These records are generally considered to be the “first among equals”, which is to say the VERY FIRST generation and the VERY FIRST pressings of the particular title; a PROTOTYPE and the earliest known official pressing of the record.

Without re-opening the argument about later promos, or the use of misplaced use of CAPITALS, back to the record in hand.


Collector’s Corner

This record spent several years on my “no, I don’t want this album” list, on account of Byrd heading towards his electric funky period, which is not for me. The cover –  kooky mod chick in op-art dress – led me to gloss over it. I already got The Sidewinder. A chance encounter with a Van Gelder copy in an East London store had me look more closely at the line up, for the first time. Mobley! Tyner! Red! In a word,  Igottahavit. The Byrd had finally landed.

Despite several digressions, “Mustang!” crosses the finishing line, and we have reached our final destination. Thank you for riding LJC, your no-cost jazz courier.

UPDATE October 14, 2016

Resourceful LJC reader Tim has sourced the liner notes to Jazz, It’s Magic. Apparently, it  has been scientifically proven that listening to jazz has significant health benefits!  We all knew this of course, but it’s good to see it proven by “science”.



23 thoughts on “Donald Byrd: “Mustang!” (1966) Blue Note

  1. I agree. Mustang! is an excellent LP. This is one of my surprise Ebay bargains. The record was advertised as Very Good, but was actually in MINT condition….all for $10. Now for the nitty gritty. I have a mono pressing, with a NY23 cover (!), but NON RVG masters, with Div of Liberty labels. The cover is embossed with the legend “Not for resale. For demonstration only.” ! So I have true first pressing cover, and a late 2nd (maybe even 3rd) pressing LP ! That said, this LP is another example of my observation that an excellent condition (MINT in this case) later pressing often sounds better than a marginal condition First pressing. The music explodes from this title, with backgrounds so quiet you can easily hear instrument decay. The delicate hf etched into the grooves are pristine, so they reproduce with great clarity. Contrast that with a VG+ 1st pressing…. where that last smidgen of frequency extension is missing, and the instrument decays merge into the ambient noise of the platter. Oh the fun of collecting !

    • Interesting, differing provenance.

      Putting to one side the possibility of a cover switch, I’ve long suspected that Liberty, over time, manufactured from two locations, as they owned plant on both East (All Disc) and West Coast (Research Craft) . Maybe one used RVG mastered metal, the other mastered locally from copy tape, no RVG. For big sellers it makes sense.

      Could explain why there are RVG and no RVG editions of a number of Liberty issues. Maybe promos were distributed to radio stations from the two locations, using locally pressed copies. Who knows. A lot of unknowns.

      The joys of record collecting indeed.

      • Makes Sense. BN and Plastlyte were East Coast companies, thus it would be reasonable for RVG masters in the East Coast, and new masters on the West Coast. I am sure someone determined the cost differential and decided accordingly. Send tape copies only, make the masters on the West Coast, press on the West Coast. If correct, then a pressing from the West Coast would be a generation removed from an East Coast pressing, and theoretically inferior ?

        • Defintootly, always go for the VAN GELDER on Liberty, if only because it is said Van Gelder, with his trusty Scully lathe and specific cutting heads, did things during mastering, like adding reverb and other tweaks, all things that are not themselves found on a copy tapes. You have no idea what the other re-mastering engineer did, or what kit he was using. (I should say this is a combination of hearsay and guesswork, as I believe Rudy never told anyone what he did).

          I figure it’s a bit like a master Italian wine-maker, who knows how to turn humble Chardonnay grape into “crystaline angel’s tears” – which is the only way I can describe the Silvio Jermann Venezia-Guilia Chardonnay which I tasted last week. ( I say “tasted”, truthfully I scoffed the lot).

          “Jermann’s 2013 Pinot Bianco is ambrosial. The nose of this white wine from Italy’s Friuli region reveals boundless scents of baked apple, flint, tangerine, white flowers and is seemingly mineral-soaked. This viscous beauty coats your mouth with rich flavors that are kept in perfect balance by its vibrancy and zest”.

          Extraordinary. I looked for a Van Gelder stamp on the bottle.

  2. Just checked my copy and it has NY labels in mono. Didn’t realise that version was rare. All of those Byrds of that vintage through to ‘Fancy Free’ are well worth picking up. The rot set in with the Mizell Brothers though.

    • Almost anything with Byrd is worth picking up 😉 I think I have most of Byrds output in some form and I for myself can even enjoy the Mizell’s significant funky work – when I am in that mood. Harlem Blues (1988) is also worth picking up as a later great Byrd.

  3. Byrd’s choice of “On The Trail”, of course, elicits comparison with Jimmy Heath’s version, which must have appeared months (or even weeks) before the 1964 tracks were recorded. No coincidence either that Heath’s own “Gingerbread Boy” is included here, albeit done in a later session. Now how do we prefer our gingerbread – Byrd style, Heath style, or Miles style?

  4. Apparently its not magic – its science! This is according to the comments on the reverse of the record jacket! I could not post the photo here so I e-mailed it to you! Perhaps you might post it?

  5. The “Jazz…it’s Magic” album is actually not bad at all. Typical late 50s Savoy blowing date which usually does the work for me.

  6. I’m Donald Byrd deficient (owning only “at the half note cafe”), so this was a treat. Sonny Red has a great perky, melodic alto. And of course, Tyner’s chording is always amazing.

    The magic on Redd’s “It’s Magic!” cover photo is likely referring to the traditional magic trick of levitating a body or object underneath a sheet. So the question becomes – what is the object? I’m afraid to guess.

    • Nice try, plausible even, but don’t magicians usually levitate their assistant horizontally, so they appear to float under the sheet? Nevertheless you are well placed in the competition, umm… number one, in a field of one, so far.

  7. I must admit to not being a great Byrd fan, but as Adam says above, SLOW DRAG is a terrifically enjoyable record. And cheap. Hipster vocalese from Billy Higgins on the title track (all a bit hokey, in fact, but even so it’s slinky and irresistible). No one tries too hard and the whole LP has a relaxed feel to it. Nice gatefold sleeve too. The only other Byrd I have is FREE FORM, which isn’t, of course, but the title track is a blast, the line-up great and the cover has always been one of my favourite Blue Notes.

    Does Don seem to be struggling a little with his articulation on the opening solo here? Perhaps it’s just the speed but he doesn’t sound as ‘clean’ as he usually is.

    Oh, and the next time someone at a dinner party tells you about flutter-tonguing and their triple-tonguing technique you should throw your claret in their face. Unless, of course, you asked them to explain and it’s that kind of dinner party…

    • What, waste a glass of good claret? A knee in the proverbials should suffice. The saving grace was to find anyone you could talk jazz to. The number of people you meet on that score, let alone talk vinyl to, you can count on the fingers of one hand. With the other hand.

  8. I’m pretty sure the kooky mod chick with the op-art dress on the cover also appears on Big John Patton’s ‘Let ‘Em Roll’. Both are fine albums. Donald Byrd’s 60’s output was consistently excellent, ‘Slow Drag’ is an often overlooked gem. Any Blue Note release with a ‘Sidewinder’-style boogaloo opener has the needle automatically dropped on track two in my house.

      • First I have the First Pressing Fundamentalists to deal with, now another jazz tribe emerges, The Tendancy Boogaloo – girls in shift dresses and beehive hairdos to the fore. Great!

        There is a rare condition, eidetic memory, that enables people to recall images photographically – mutants. BLP 4239 Big John Patton Let ‘Em Roll it is. The frock is certainly the same.

        Impressive. Caused me to get it off the shelf, Grant Green, Bobby Hutcherson, I feel a post coming on.

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