The disco era was a challenge to many artists who had thrived in earlier musical settings. But some managed to move with the times without selling their soul or losing their identities. One such was the great jazz man Donald Byrd, who took his peerless trumpet playing onto the dancefloor with considerable success in the 1970s and early 1980s.
On November 15, 1975, during his long tenure at Blue Note Records, he entered Billboard’s Hot Soul Singles chart with the highly danceable and elegantly orchestrated “Change (Makes You Wanna Hustle).” Not for nothing did the label take out a trade advertisement that blared “DISCOver Donald Byrd!”
Written by leading soul writer Larry Mizell, the track was the opening cut from Byrd’s new album of the time, Places and Spaces, which Mizell oversaw and which made its own soul LP chart debut a week later. The set continued the Detroit native’s hot streak, becoming his fourth consecutive title to make the R&B Top 10. The sequence began with 1973’s Black Byrd, from which the title track became a Top 20 soul success; 1974 brought Street Lady, followed by Stepping Into Tomorrow.
Two hit jazz-soul groups for the price of one
Recorded at the Sound Factory in Hollywood, Places and Spaces arrived at a time when Byrd’s influence and profile was not just limited to his own records. He was also a core member of the Blackbyrds, the Washington-based outfit who had their own deal with Fantasy Records and had recently scored a major hit single, on both sides of the Atlantic, with the irresistible “Walking In Rhythm.”
A-list jazz and soul talents
Places and Spaces featured contributions from such A-list jazz and soul talents as fellow trumpeter Ray Brown, a longtime feature of Earth, Wind & Fire’s horn section; multi-instrumentalist Fonce Mizell, who with brother Larry formed a noted production partnership; pianist Skip Scarborough, bassist Chuck Rainey and drummer Harvey Mason.
The album is better known for another song that became a disco favourite, the breezy “(Fallin’ Like) Dominoes.” But it was “Change (Makes You Wanna Hustle)” that became the big winner on Billboard’s Disco Singles countdown, where it reached No.2, even if it peaked at No.43 R&B. Places and Spaces went on to top the magazine’s Jazz Albums chart and hit No.6 on the R&B list, further helped by other key tracks such as the funky title number and a cover of the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).”
“I strive to communicate in my arranging,” Byrd told Billboard in June 1975. “I learned that electronic instruments strike a golden chord with young music lovers and because I believe in those instruments — I often use four synthesisers, for example — it’s natural for me to incorporate them in my charts.”
“Change (Makes You Wanna Hustle)” is on Places and Spaces, which can be bought here.