Donald Byrd: Fuego (1959) Blue Note, and Blue Not

Selection: Lament (Byrd)

.  .  .


Donald Byrd, trumpet; Jackie McLean, alto sax; Duke Pearson, piano; Doug Watkins, bass; Lex Humphries, drums. Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 4, 1959

Duke Pearson adds his soulful touch behind the keys, Doug Watkins supple bass, but this time Byrd’s  brass pairing is with Jackie Mclean’s sharp alto. The signature sound of Fuego is however the strangely reverb-heavy drums of Lex Humphries. Late 1959, the stereo production shows how much Van Gelder had moved towards the final presentation of a stereo soundstage.


Fuego – “fiery” bebop form, with six original compositions from Byrd. Is it Byrd’s album or is it Jackies?  Sometimes hard to tell, with Jackie’s acid-sharp searing solos which  make such a very distinctive contribution.  Pearson’s spare comping accents are perfectly placed behind the tunes, maintaining forward propulsion.

Late 1959 and compositions move towards modal territory, with sometimes latin-tinged themes. All the compositions on Fuego sparkle, difficult to pick one, for some reason I’m not fond of the title track, but after repeated play, the title “Lament” seemed the strongest and most attractive, Low Life a close second, while the gospel-driven “Amen” treads a more predictable path, and feels a repeat of many others in Byrd’s repertoire

Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, and of course Miles,  each had their own unique trumpet  voice, each is a pleasure to listen to. I’ll gladly take pleasure in listening to all four. There is no contestant elimination format at LJC. No doubt you have your own other favourites.

Vinyl: ST-84026 – 47W63 labels with INC & R both sides, ear, RVG STEREO master stamp, laminated cover, BUT, crucially, no deep groove.

What is it? Authentication of Blue Note  provenance – a case study.

Revisiting the Feugo stereo I bought very early in my Blue Note collecting history revealed my ignorance of crucial detail at the time. The Ebay seller noted original 47W63rd labels and Plastylite ear, and that was enough to have me (and others) reaching for their auction bid button.

According to my recollection, the auction closed at 3 am UK time, me having crept out of bed to sit in front of the PC to watch auction close, while my better half declared me completely mad. I won the auction, but what had I won? From what I know now, not what I thought I had. Let me walk you through the critical detail I should have known.

Fuego was recorded in October 1959. The mono edition was released in June 1960, the stereo edition  three months later, in September 1960. Pressing and packing would take place in the two to three months running up to release.

Both mono and stereo original first pressings of Fuego are deep groove because  the deep groove pressing die was the only type of die in use at Plastylite at that time. Plastylite pressings without deep groove, on one side or both, first appeared in the autumn of 1961. The absence of deep groove means it was manufactured  at least a year after the original stereo release, and possibly longer.

The presence of original  47W63rd  labels is not as I thought an indicator of original status, because labels left over from the first pressing run continued in use on further pressings,some times many years later. 

The cover bears the 43 West 61st., New York 23 address and crucially, is laminated. Cover lamination was standard on Blue Note covers manufactured up to Autumn 1963, beyond which they were manufactured without the glossy laminated finish. This cover is most likely original, from stock left over from the first stereo issue, or at least manufactured before 1963. So the pressing window is narrowing to between 1961 and 1963.

The vinyl detective’s favourite tell-tale is the inner sleeve, when present. There were nine inner sleeve designs in the period 1961 to 1966, each identified by a single unique LP cover, uniquely positioned among the 36 covers  illustrated on the open ended side.

This unique Identifier (sleeve design number 4)  BLP 4107 Don Wilkerson Preach Brother Preach in Column 1, Row 5 of the open ended side, a sleeve design found  with releases  4117 to 4131, 1963 release titles.

So to answer the question “What is it?”: a Blue Note Plastylite pressing manufactured several years after the original release,  most likely in 1963, using up old stock labels and cover, and packed with the inner sleeve current at the time. Phew!

The surface condition of my  “not-original” stereo pressing left a little to be desired. So much for the pleasure of collecting over-priced “originals”.  United Artists to the rescue!

The UA early ’70s reissue is Van Gelder stereo master source!. By the early ’70s, records were less likely victims of careless handling and heavy tonearms of the previous decades. It’s the real thing really, without the collector premium. Purchased without a cover,  I recall it was about $10, a fraction of what I paid for the not-original. . The rip on this post is taken from this  UA blue label VAN GELDER STEREO master edition.

Collector’s Corner: Blue Not

St LouisJazzcollector Tony sent me news of an intruiging discovery, an edition of Donald  Byrd’s Fuego, but not an edition many will have seen.

Vinyl: CSJ 672 Taiwan Blue Note, Red Vinyl, RVG stereo master

No, it is not an April Fool six months early. Red vinyl, pressed with Van Gelder metal, apparently in Taiwan, by someone who had access to Van Gelder metal… any explanation you can think of. .. which found it’s way to a record store in St Louis, Missouri, USA.

Collector’s Stories: Tony in St Louis, Missouri, picks up the story.

“It was during a flurry of activity in mid-September when I noticed this gem posted by my friends at Dead Wax Records in our fair metropolis of St. Louis.

I contacted the store and asked them to set the LP aside for my next visit to the shop. Life, as it tends to do, got in the way. After weekends alternating between my daughter’s marching band competitions and my son’s college tours (my parental requirement of at least one great record shop in the area, of course), I finally had a chance to stop by the shop and check out this odd beauty. Poorly mimeographed paper thin jacket “laminated” in loose plastic? Check. Label and markings of unspecified origin? Check. Colored vinyl to hide pressing defects and general condition? Check.


RVG STEREO stamped in the dead wax? Etched Blue Note released numbers too? Is it possible that this oddity was actually pressed using US metalwork? I had to have it

Once home, I compared the positioning of the etched release numbers and RVG STEREO stamps and the relative positions match my United Artists copy.The LP itself approaches 180g . Each side of the LP took a spin on the trusty VPI 16.5 RCM and bathed in KL Audio ultrasonic cleaner. 

The sound… let’s just say that despite the metalwork, the pressing quality lived down to my expectations. Visually the LP is probably in the VG to VG- range (difficult to pinpoint with colored vinyl) so condition certainly informs playback problems. The consistent background wooooosh typically signals poor pressing quality vs groove damage in my experience. Lovely to look at, thrilling to hold but hearing these grooves leaves me verklempt.” 

Thanks, Tony, a slice of collector life, great!  Verklempt, as you say.

A Tale of Taiwan

After the end of the Second World War, Taiwan became the home to the Republic of China, later, The Peoples Republic of China, neither of which were the actual mainland China we know as “China”.

In the 1950s, the US signed a Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, providing US military assistance and support to the Republic of China. President Eisenhower visited Taipei, capital of Taiwan, in June 1960, eight months after Donald Byrd recorded Fuego, but surely coincidentally, the exact month of it’s release, in June 1960. Seen here, Eisenhower waving promo copies of Fuego to cheering crowds of Taiwanese jazz fans.

The cover is likely local printing, since few US linotype setters in the 1960s  would have font-sets in Mandarin. Is there a military connection bringing black American jazz into the Far East? The US Army maintained a garrison force in Taiwan until their withdrawal, in 1979.

There are less than a half dozen Jazz  titles among thisTaiwan label series found on Discogs, mainstream ’60s US rock and pop, for instance Elvis, Mamas and Papas, Jackie Wilson . A few sellers have ventured release dates,r 1967-8, The Liberty Years, most claim unknown.

Do others have Rudy stampers too? Two copies of Blue Train uploaded to Discogs make no mention., so I assume not. But how did Byrd’s Fuego pull that trick? The Fuego stampers remained in use in the US at least through the United Artists years, as found on the blue label/black note copy from the early ’70s.

Bull In A China Shop?

The  language used  in Taiwan is primarily Chinese Mandarin, a phonic language which uses 37 symbols to represent its sounds, compared with our 26 letters of the alphabet, which serve I assume  the same purpose. In addition, some Japanese is spoken in Taiwan, along with Taiwanese Hokkien.

The question I have is, what can anyone tell us from the text at the bottom of this Taiwanese Blue Not?

Anyone know any more about these strange records? I’m hoping for something interesting, but prepared to be disappointed. Verklempt.

Over to you. 


Evan has sent me a Korean Blue Not with VAN GELDER stamp, apparently. What to make of this I don’t know. The King Record label credits an organ player called Simmy Smith, perhaps Jimmy’s brother,  but it is deep groove, sight ot which which sets a few pulses racing. The back cover artfully overlaps where the Blue Note address would be, and the catalogue number has been airbrushed out, but otherwise looks identical.

Thanks, Evan!

Any more Blue Nots out there? Send me.

Fuego Cover Madness

Aaron’s been looking closely at his multiple copies of Fuego, and spotted the difficulties Liberty had reproducing the colours and text of the cover art, and nomenclature on the spine.


My mono original vinyl auction score came with a substitute Liberty stereo cover, and the UA I bought with no cover. What is it with these Fuego covers?

14 thoughts on “Donald Byrd: Fuego (1959) Blue Note, and Blue Not

  1. Quick correction: Chinese doesn’t use 37 phonetic characters, but rather about 17,000 logogram characters, which in Mandarin are called hanzi, literally Han characters. An educated Chinese user will know more than 5000. Japanese language use on Taiwan is left over from Japan’s occupation of the island, which ended following VJ day. Taiwanese are very proud of their own dialect, which for native speakers, is typically learned before Mandarin. These labels are in traditional Chinese characters, as opposed to the simplified characters used in mainland China (no Japanese characters here; Japanese does use some Chinese characters, which the Japanese call kanji, literally Han characters). For example, the bottom of the labels say that the recordings were made in July 1957.

  2. Concerning the Taiwan releases, I have a copy of The Jazz Messengers At The Café Bohemia Vol. 2. Van Gelder is not in the runout but RVG is. Songs on the record itself do not matchup with the sleeve listings. For instance side 2 begins in the middle of a Blakey drum solo. Some of the songs are missing entirely. For me, just a $5.00 curiousity.

  3. Adorei esse website. a idéia é demasiado bom. Vou reaparecer novamente.

    GoogleTranslate, I couldn’t resist: “Loved this website. The idea is too good. I will reappear again”
    You are very welcome!

  4. This is one I have the mono deep groove pressings of. Probably one of my favs and the reason is Doug Watkins that I love as deep as Paul Chambers. In my book if any of these guys plays the record will always be interesting.

  5. Those taiwanese issues are very ubiquitous. i’ve seen at least 40 titles in various shops, always with that same label design, always on colored vinyl. they seem to be particularly prominent in philadelphia. valdo williams on savoy, mingus on impulse, etc. ever check the runout, but i will next time.

  6. Most likely our Taiwanese friends had access to Van Gelder vinyl, not metal. The theory on these records is that they used commercial pressings as mothers to make their own stampers. I have a handful of these pirates and many match up with official pressing matrix numbers. I’ve never seen any Blue Notes, but I do have some 70s Hubbard and Grover Washington Jr.

    • Bingo! I think you have it there, Rob. Counterfeiting, using original vinyl in a reverse engineering process to manufacture more copies, all the stamps and etchings would be replicated, but the quality of the recording not. There is the story.

      • Saw that the Taiwanese pressing where banned from dicogs. Guess that this prove that they did not have access to Van Galders stampers.

        • Confirmation, indeed. I saw one Discogs entry described as an “unofficial release”. It is useful to know these are counterfeits, as runout etchings are normally proof of provenance, but not in the case of the Wild East.

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