Behind The Cover: Donald Byrd

by John R. Paul

June 11, 2013

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.

Donald Byrd A New Perspective

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.

Donald Byrd Off to the Races and The Cat Walk

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.



  1. Jan Witkowski New York

    Reid Miles was the graphic designer for Blue Note Records and Francis Wolff the photographer. Many of their classic Blue Note Record covers featured cars and can be found in several books such as "Blue Note: The Album Cover Art".

  2. JR USA

    Interesting article. I was struck at how familiar the "a new perspective" album cover was though I was sure I'd never seen it. Then I realized: The Tone-Loc / Loced after dark rap album is clearly a nod to Donald Byrd and shows how cool the e-type continued to be as times changed.

  3. Steven B Montgomery, AL

    1963 was the year that I graduated from High School and Donald Bryd's music was a part of my collection as I went off to college. I still have several of his albums as a part of my 2,000 plus vinyl LP collection. R.I.P. to a great musician and a "cool cat" that had good taste in cars.

  4. GARY A. JONES Madison, Alabama

    Thank you for this very enlightening article about a musical genius. Thank you for a "dual" tribute to the man's taste in music and cars. For those of you who haven't heard any of Donald Byrd's music I urge you to take a listen. You won't be disappointed. It's like driving a fine classic automobile. A smooth musical ride with a hint of acceleration just around the corner. He will definitely be missed...

  5. David Fisher Wyoming

    Great article...keep up the good work.............

  6. Lew chicgo

    Great article ,many people dony know the rich history of this guy. Glad to know Herbie Hancock took his advice

  7. edward thomas jr. dallas,tx.

    Love Blue Note's Album Covers, They Are So Cool & Sophisticated!