Behind The Cover: Donald Byrd
Donald Byrd, an influential jazz trumpeter, passed away earlier this year. Never heard of Byrd or his connection to Carroll Shelby’s Cobra CSX 2006? Let the Historic Vehicle Association introduce you to a jazz musician who knew a few things about cars and cool.
A number of dramatic shifts in culture, music, politics, and the automobile happened in 1963. One of the more influential jazz albums of that year, and a harbinger of things to come, was Donald Byrd’s knowingly titled A New Perspective. Released a mere two weeks before Kennedy’s assassination, the album arrived on the edge of change and social turmoil that would come to define much of the 1960s.
An aural and visual pun, A New Perspective immediately grabs the listener with its striking cover image of Byrd leaning in, casual and relaxed, dwarfed by the impossibly long hood of a Jaguar E-Type.
The Cobra Connection
With A New Perspective, Byrd’s influence would reverberate through the music and auto worlds, the latter in a rather surprising, and very lasting, manner.
Byrd’s pianist on the album and roommate at the time was Herbie Hancock, whose composition “Watermelon Man” had recently become a hit for which the young pianist received his first royalty check, a princely sum of $3,000. Byrd was able to convince Hancock to purchase a Shelby Cobra (CSX 2006, the sixth production Cobra) with the royalty check instead of a station wagon. Hancock still has the car and now, with the passing of Carroll Shelby, holds the distinction of being the longest original owner of a Cobra.
Byrd’s romance with the automobile would subside as the sixties wore on. He began focusing more on social messages in both his music and album artwork, changing his sounds and styles appropriately with the equally changing times. But the cool, studied innocence of the early 1960s will forever be represented by iconic album covers like A New Perspective, which has left a permanent mark on jazz fans and car guys alike.
As evidenced by the covers of his two previous albums (1958’s Off to the Races that shows Byrd appearing with a Mercedes and 1961’s The Cat Walk with the musician leaning on the hood of a Jag), cars and casual poses were something Byrd knew well.