The Complete Blue Note Donald Byrd /Pepper Adams Studio Sessions


-By Alan Goodman

The Unique Blend of Donald Byrd & Pepper Adams

If you were a cab driver in New York in the late 1950s, chances are Donald Byrd was a fare at one time or another. So much was happening in New York, and Byrd was at the center of it, working every day – cabs to the studio in the morning, cabs to the clubs at night, cabs home in the morning. There was an almost insatiable demand for the hard bop Byrd and his contemporaries from Detroit were playing, and Byrd shuttled from Blue Note to Savoy to Prestige, offering his services. He literally performed on 60 albums from 1955 to 1958.

And then he teamed with Pepper Adams

Baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams was one of many musicians who had migrated from Detroit (joining, among others, Byrd, Kenny Burrell, Sonny Stitt, Curtis Fuller, Paul Chambers, and the Jones brothers, Thad, Elvin and Hank). As biting as his attack could be, it was more direct than brusque, and blended beautifully with Byrd’s bright, lyrical trumpet. This Mosaic collection captures two of the hardest working and most prolific musicians in all of hard bop at their absolute peak during those years

They first worked together on a live gig led by Pepper Adams at New York’s Five Spot (recorded by Riverside), which led to two powerful Byrd sextet sessions on Blue Note (“”Off To The Races”” with Jackie McLean and “”Byrd In Hand”” with Charlie Rouse).


In 1960, he and Adams made it official and teamed to create one of the most original front lines in jazz. While the quintet often appeared and recorded under Byrd’s leadership, it really co-featured both musicians.

Two albums recorded live at The Half Note were the first result (not included here because they’ve been widely available on CD for some time). Recording as Byrd’s quintet, the band was responsible for introducing to the jazz world two important and influential pianist-composers Duke Pearson (heard on the Half Note sessions and the studio lp, “”The Cat Walk””) and Herbie Hancock (heard on “”Chant””, his first recording session, and “”Royal Flush””).

Mature and Secure

As they continued to work together, it became clear that Byrd’s trumpet technique and tone had fully matured (one contemporary writer compared his playing to Clifford Brown‘s) and he blossomed as a writer whose charts were anything but conventional. For his part, Adams always delivered. He pulled and prodded a tune’s melody and rhythmic structure with the determination of an explorer and the skill of a surgeon. As one downbeat writer said at the time, “”he apparently is incapable of turning in a lackluster performance.”

But because of the demand for both these musicians, this little gem of a group had already disbanded in 1962. A reunion in 1967 produced Byrd’s “”The Creeper,”” with Byrd’s then current front-line mate, alto saxophonist Sonny Red. That session, which also included Chick Corea and Miroslav Vitous, was not released until 1980 and is also included here, on CD for the first time.

There’s no question their Blue Notes sessions together are among the best either musician ever made. The effect they had on the jazz world of their time can’t be overstated and, looking back, you couldn’t ask for a better view of jazz at the time.

April 1961

Donald Byrd (tp), Pepper Adams (bari), Herbie Hancock (p), Doug Watkins (b), Teddy Robinson (d).

After graduating from Grinnell University in 1960, Herbie Hancock went home to Chicago, returned to the post office job he had held each summer, picking up whatever gigs he could around town. After a week of backing Coleman Hawkins late into the night, though, he decided to make the full-time commitment to music.

He had been freelancing for a couple of months when club owner Joe Segal called him and said that the Byrd/Adams quintet needed a sub. “They were heading to Milwaukee for 10 days,” Hancock recalls, “beginning on a Friday and going through the whole next week. Duke Pearson was unavailable that first weekend, so they were looking for someone to fill in the first three nights until Duke arrived.”

When a snowstorm made the drive from Chicago impossible on the first night, Byrd and Adams went to hear the young pianist at a jam session. “I played so poorly I was convinced they’d tell me to stay home,” Hancock says. “But they took me to Milwaukee anyway; and, after Sunday night, they told me that the band had taken a vote, and wanted me to replace Duke Pearson.”

The rest is history well known to all jazz fans. “I really owe Donald Byrd a lot,” Hancock emphasizes. “He’s the one who made sure I formed my own publishing company, Hancock Music, and he’s the one who got me my first album as a leader with Alfred Lion. He also gave me my first record date, which was the album that Donald and Pepper did for Warwick.”

Chant, a Duke Pearson composition that Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams had already recorded at their Half Note gig, has ties to Moanin’ in its title, its tight gospel cadences and the more invigorating shuffle rhythm that greets the soloists.

Pearson did more than rewrite the Bobby Timmons hit, though, and the piece has a bittersweet mood of its own that even the extroverted Adams falls into during the first of his two choruses.  The atmosphere is ideal for Byrd, the modernist son of a Methodist minister, and what would become one of Hancock’s primary skills – revealing all nuances of multifaceted material – emerges during the piano solo. – Bob Bluementhal, liner notes


All sessions were recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack (A-B) and Englewood Cliffs (C-F), New Jersey. Sessions A, B, D and E were released soon after their recording dates. Sessions C and F were not issued until 1979 and 1981 respectively.
(A) Donald Byrd (tp), Jackie McLean (as), Pepper Adams (bari), Wynton Kelly (p), Sam Jones (b), Art Taylor (d).
December 21, 1958

tk 3 Sudwest funk
tk 4 Lover Come Back To Me
tk 6 When Your Love Has Gone (omit saxes)
tk 9 Off To The Races
tk 10 Paul’s Pal
tk 12 Down Tempo

All titles originally issued as Off To The Races Blue Note BST 84007.
(B) Donald Byrd (tp), Charlie Rouse (ts), Pepper Adams (bari), Walter Davis (p), Sam Jones (b), Art Taylor (d).
May 31, 1959
tk 1 Here Am I
tk 2 Witchcraft
tk 3 The Injuns
tk 7 Devil Whip
tk 10 Bronze Dance
tk 16 Clarion Calls

All titles originally issued as Byrd In Hand Blue Note BST 84019.
(C) Donald Byrd (tp), Pepper Adams (bari), Herbie Hancock (p), Doug Watkins (b), Teddy Robinson (d).
April 17, 1961
tk 3 I’m An Old Cowhand
tk 6 You’re Next
tk 10 Great God
tk 13 Chant
tk 15 Sophisticated Lady (omit tp)
Cute rejected
tk 20 That’s All

All titles, except rejected tune, issued in 1979 as Chant, Blue Note LT-991.
(D) Donald Byrd (tp), Pepper Adams (bari), Duke Pearson (p), Laymon Jackson (b), Philly Joe Jones (d).
May 2, 1961

tk 2 Say You’re Mine
tk 5 Hello Bright Sunflower
tk 8 Each Time I Think Of You
tk 10 Duke’s Mixture
tk 14 The Cat Walk
tk 15 Cute

all titles issued as The Cat Walk, Blue Note BST 84075.
(E) Donald Byrd (tp), Pepper Adams (bari), Herbie Hancock (p), Butch Warren (b), Billy Higgins (d).
September 21, 1961

tk 1 Jorgie’s
tk 6 Shangri-la
tk 10 Hush
tk 16 6 M’s
tk 19 Requiem
Child’s Play rejected
tk 26 I’m A Fool To Want You

All titles, except rejected tune, issued as Royal Flush, Blue Note BST 84101.
(F) Donald Byrd (tp), Sonny Red (as), Pepper Adams (bari), Chick Corea (p), Miroslav Vitous (b), Mickey Roker (d)
October 5, 1967

tk 4 Blues Well Done
tk 6 Early Sunday Morning
tk 8 I Will Wait For You (omit saxes)
tk 15 Chico San
tk 18 The Creeper
tk 21 Samba Yantra
tk 25 Blue Medium Rare

All titles issued in 1981 as The Creeper, Blue Note LT-1096.

Original sessions produced by Alfred Lion (A-E) and Duke Pearson (F).
Produced for release by Michael Cuscuna
Executive producer: Charlie Lourie
Recording engineer: Rudy Van Gelder
Mastered using 24-bit analog-to-digital resolution by Ron McMaster.

Masters appear courtesy of Blue Note Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc.

Producer’s note:
Because all of the material used in this set consists of single sessions that produced entire LPs, we’ve decided to retain the original album sequence within a session rather than present it in chronological order of performance. Many of our sets comprise sessions issued in scattered form and unissued masters that make retaining the original album sequence less desirable than strict chronological order of performance. Because many of you have expressed a preference for original sequences, where possible as in our recent Blue Mitchell and Hank Mobley sets, we will use them.
We have put the sextet sessions (the origins and reunion) together on first two discs and the three 1961 studio sessions by the actual quintet together on the last two discs to preserve the concept and spirit of the music rather than the chronological integrity.