THE DOZENS: ESSENTIAL ART BLAKEY by Eric Novod

By the age of 25 (1944), Pittsburgh-native Art Blakey had already completed stints with Mary Lou Williams and Fletcher Henderson and was performing nightly alongside Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Fats Navarro, Sonny Stitt and/or Sarah Vaughan during his tenure with Billy Eckstine’s Orchestra. Gigs with Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker followed in the late 1940s, and as the 1950s emerged, Blakey had solidified his reputation as a leading bop drummer.

It was the development of these acquired skills and bebop experiences that ultimately established Art Blakey as jazz drumming’s “patriarch.” While drumming bandleaders were all the rage throughout the Swing Era (Gene Krupa, Chick Webb, Cozy Cole, etc.), the bebop movement usually established the primary melodic improviser as the bandleader. Blakey was the colossal post-big-band exception to this rule for nearly forty years. While many legendary jazz drummers led revered sessions, no one accomplished the legendary sustained leadership of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.



      Art Blakey, artwork by Michael Symonds

The group became a “rite of passage” for up-and-coming musicians – a school that provided a first-hand, first-rate education that rivaled that of any university. All the while, Blakey and his sidemen played a major role in the origins, development, and sustenance of the hard-bop movement. And let us not forget about Blakey’s drumming – his consistent hi-hat foot, deep, strong cymbal grooves, thunderous tom fills, dynamic press rolls on the snare drum, and commitment to incorporating African cross-rhythms into his drumming brought a unique, instantly recognizable drumming style to his legendary group.

Here are twelve of the hundreds of “essential” tracks from master drummer, teacher and bandleader, Art Blakey, and his Jazz Messengers.


Art Blakey: Wee-Dot

Track

Wee-Dot

Artist

Art Blakey (drums)

CD

A Night at Birdland with Art Blakey, Volume 2 (Blue Note 5038)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Art Blakey (drums), Clifford Brown (trumpet), Lou Donaldson (alto sax), Horace Silver (piano),

Curly Russell (bass)

.

Composed by J.J. Johnson & Leo Parker

.

Recorded: live at Birdland, New York, February 21, 1954

Albumcoverartblakey-anightatbirdland-volume2

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Art Blakey had led his own sessions from as early as 1947, when his collaboration with Kenny Dorham and Walter Bishop Jr., among others, was released as New Sounds (also released as The Thin Man and The Bop Alley). These February '54 performances, however, truly launched Blakey's solo career. It is out of this legendary lineup that the original, small-group Jazz Messengers would soon be formed. Note the classic performances by all band members here – the scorching Brown improvisation, the astoundingly Birdlike Donaldson offering, the soulful Silver comping, and the simple, sustained intensity of Blakey's groove. While no group may ever be able to swing as fast and with as much virtuosity as Diz/Bird/Roach, no group may ever be able to swing as physically hard and as deep as this bebop/hard-bop lineup. A classic introduction to the Blakey sound.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers: Hankerin'

Track

Hankerin'

Group

The Jazz Messengers

CD

Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers (Blue Note 1815)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Art Blakey (drums),

Doug Watkins (bass)

.

Composed by Hank Mobley

.

Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, February 6, 1955

Albumcoverhoracesilverandthejazzmessengers

Rating: 86/100 (learn more)

Even though just a year (nearly to the day) had elapsed between Art Blakey's classic recordings with Clifford Brown live at Birdland and this Horace Silver-led studio session, quite a bit had changed in Blakey's musical world. His co-op band was now officially "The Jazz Messengers," and their feverish bop influence began to succumb to a more subdued, gospel/blues-influenced hard bop. Dorham and Mobley were the perfect match for this early, transitional edition of the Messengers, able to blow at a blistering pace and also execute Silver's more graceful material. On this track, you can almost sense the group's early influences melting away as the classic hard-bop Messenger sound forms before our very ears. Of special note is Mobley's fine, complex solo and the Blakey signature of all signatures: the constant thumping out of beats two and four with his hi-hat foot that begins in the tune's opening measure and lasts until the final chord is struck!

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk: Rhythm-A-Ning

Track

Rhythm-A-Ning

Group

The Jazz Messengers

CD

Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk (Atlantic 1278)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Art Blakey (drums), Thelonious Monk (piano), Johnny Griffin (tenor sax),

Bill Hardman (trumpet), Spanky DeBrest (bass)

.

Composed by Thelonious Monk

.

Recorded: New York, May 15, 1957

Albumcoverartblakeysjazzmessengerswiththeloniousmonk

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

One of the many strengths of Art Blakey's musical leadership was his ability to bring new musicians on board without sacrificing the overall sound or approach of the Jazz Messengers. Even when Thelonious Monk enters the picture, you may ask? Well, ultimately, yes.

The first half of the track is more like a Monk recording than a Messengers recording. Blakey is noticeably subdued, and although his signature pounding hi-hat pulse is still present, he lightly breaks the rhythm more like Roy Haynes than like Art Blakey. Blakey appears to be taking the backseat and allowing Monk to run the show. As the track progresses and the other musicians begin to solo, however, Blakey raises the intensity level, and the soloists take notice and answer the call. All of sudden, even though Monk's comping presence is felt throughout, the Messenger service is back in full swing – replete with Blakey's big rolls between solos and signature solo licks to conclude the tune. The presence of Monk and his tunes on this '57 session makes for a fascinating study of the collision of dominant jazz personalities.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: The Drum Thunder Suite

Track

The Drum Thunder Suite

Group

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

CD

Moanin' (Blue Note 4003)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Art Blakey (drums), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Benny Golson (tenor sax), Bobby Timmons (piano),

Jymie Merritt (bass)

.

Composed by Benny Golson

.

Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, October 30, 1958

Albumcovermoanin

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

While Art Blakey's earlier sessions with, respectively, Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk were essential in developing the Jazz Messengers craft, Moanin' levitated the group to its true level of innovation. With the contrasting yet equally autographical gospel blues of "Moanin'" and the rapid-fire attack of "The Drum Thunder Suite," this record set the standard to which the Messengers sound would consistently adhere throughout much of its career. The arrival of longtime members Morgan and Timmons, and briefly tenured yet influential tenorman/composer Benny Golson, resulted in one of the more effortless Jazz Messengers grooves. Note the classic Blakey solo characteristics throughout this tune: the melodic call-and-response between the toms, the loud, multi-drum rolls, and the cymbals used as accents, all performed while maintaining the constant hi-hat pulse.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Dance of the Infidels

Track

Dance of the Infidels

Group

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

CD

Paris Jam Session (Fontana 680-207-L)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Art Blakey (drums), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Bud Powell (piano),

Barney Wilen (alto sax), Jymie Merritt (bass)

.

Composed by Bud Powell

.

Recorded: Theatre de Champs-Elsyees, Paris, December 18, 1959

Albumcoverartblakeyparisjamsession

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

The presence of Bud Powell alongside Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter makes this an often-overlooked yet essential Jazz Messengers performance. After a suddenly starting, rough presentation of the melody, the soloists are off and running, and the jam-session nature of this recording makes these solo statements long, creative and intense. Fine, vigorous solos are played by Wilen, Morgan and Shorter, but the sure highlight here is the education Bud Powell provides the three aforementioned "youngsters" with an extended tour-de-force solo. Note how energized all the musicians seem, especially Morgan and Blakey, during the fours that directly succeed Powell's solo.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: So Tired

Track

So Tired

Group

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

CD

A Night in Tunisia (Blue Note 4049)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Art Blakey (drums), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Bobby Timmons (piano),

Jymie Merritt (bass)

.

Composed by Wayne Shorter

.

Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, August 14, 1960

Albumcoverartblakeyandthejazzmessengers-anightintunisia

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

This grooving AABA composition features a Latin/Boogaloo "A" section and a swinging "B" section – effortlessly executed by the Timmons/Merritt/Blakey rhythm section. Note how Blakey's "straight" ride-cymbal pattern over the Latin/Boogaloo sections still swings nearly as much as the actual swing sections do! Shorter and Timmons both produce fine solos here, but they serve as bookends to the true marvel of this track, the fiery Lee Morgan solo so brimming with energy and ideas that it often sounds as if Morgan is beginning another incredible line before ending his previous one. This is among the finest examples of a "mellow" Messengers track – from composition and arrangement to strong Blakey groove to soulful, exciting solos from all members.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: A Night in Tunisia

Track

A Night in Tunisia

Group

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

CD

A Night in Tunisia (Blue Note 4049)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Art Blakey (drums), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Bobby Timmons (piano),

Jymie Merritt (bass)

.

Composed by Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Paparelli

.

Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, August 14, 1960

Albumcoverartblakeyandthejazzmessengers-anightintunisia

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Is there a more intense, energetic single track anywhere out there? The Messengers absolutely tear through the head of this tune, replete with Blakey's blistering fills throughout the "pre-sax-break" vamp. Shorter offers up a fine solo, opting for a minimalist, harmonic approach to filling up Bird's revolutionary break of 14 years before. Morgan blazes through his solo space, and Blakey's energetic hi-hat and clever Latin-percussion-drenched background figures allow bassist Jymie Merritt to solo without sacrificing the tremendous momentum that has built up. The presence of Latin percussion underneath what would normally be Blakey's unaccompanied drum solo frees him to experiment with melodic rhythms that make this one of his finest and most unique solos. Cadenzas by Morgan, Shorter and Blakey top off this classic, intense, energetic performance.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Art Blakey: The Freedom Rider

Track

The Freedom Rider

Group

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

CD

The Freedom Rider (Blue Note 21287)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Art Blakey (drums).

Composed by Art Blakey

.

Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, May 27, 1961

Albumcoverartblakey-thefreedomrider

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

"The Freedom Rider" is a 7˝-minute unaccompanied drum solo from the final record made by the Shorter/Morgan/Timmons/Merritt installment of the Jazz Messengers. Blakey strictly adheres to his solo formula here, laying down his signature Latin-inspired ride cymbal/tom groove and alternating it with tom-and-snare based improvisations. One could almost imagine that Blakey is playing along to a Messengers track here and only the drums were recorded – his extended solo statement is essentially a song-oriented composition. For this reason, "The Freedom Rider" is an essential addition to the Blakey discography, giving listeners a glimpse into the entire range of Blakey's playing without distraction.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Bu's Delight

Track

Bu's Delight

Group

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

CD

Buhaina's Delight (Blue Note 4104)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Art Blakey (drums), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax),

Cedar Walton (piano), Jymie Merritt (bass)

.

Composed by Curtis Fuller

.

Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, December 18, 1961

Albumcoverartblakeyandthejazzmessengers-buhainasdelight

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

In 1961, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller and Cedar Walton joined the Jazz Messengers, with Shorter and Merritt remaining on board from the previous lineup. While the Morgan/Shorter front line released some of Blakey's most highly revered material, this group was up to the challenge of following, and at some points surpassing the high musical quality of previous Messengers lineups. Buhaina's Delight, Three Blind Mice, Mosaic, Caravan (now with Reggie Workman on bass), Ugetsu, Free for All and Kyoto all exemplify this fine version of the Messengers between 1961 and 1964. Freddie Hubbard is one of the few trumpeters who could have stepped into Lee Morgan's footprints and not make us think of him solely as Morgan's successor. Hubbard's muscular solo here declares his arrival in the band, and Blakey's extended solo stretches beyond his usual formula and flirts with moments of "free jazz" drumming.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Pensativa

Track

Pensativa

Group

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

CD

Free For All (Blue Note 84170)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Art Blakey (drums), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Cedar Walton (piano), Reggie Workman (bass).

Composed by Clare Fischer

.

Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, February 10, 1964

Albumcoverartblakeyfreeforall

Rating: 88/100 (learn more)

The addition of trombonist Curtis Fuller as a third member of the Jazz Messengers' front line allowed for some unique three-part writing and arranging in this chapter of the band's story. Hence the Latin-inspired, highly arranged "Pensativa," representing a calmer and cooler version of the Messengers. All three frontline players trade off sections of the lengthy bossa-nova melody. Blakey himself is subdued yet still strongly swinging throughout, and Cedar Walton takes the opportunity to perform an outstanding solo after fine Hubbard and Shorter offerings. A welcomed development to the Jazz Messengers sound.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: I Can't Get Started

Track

I Can't Get Started

Group

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

CD

Child's Dance (Prestige 10047)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Art Blakey (drums), Woody Shaw (trumpet), George Cables (electric piano).

Composed by Vernon Duke & Ira Gershwin

.

Recorded: New York, July 28, 1972

Albumcoverartblakeyandthejazzmessengers-childsdance

Rating: 82/100 (learn more)

This fascinating version of the Duke/Gershwin standard is a somewhat rare departure from the classic hard-bop grooves that dominated the Jazz Messengers catalog. An inspired introduction featuring Cables on electric piano, Clarke on acoustic bass, and Shaw on trumpet is smooth and enjoyable. The most noteworthy aspect of this track, however, is Blakey's experimentation. He enters with a "Freedom Jazz Dance"-inspired Tony Williams groove at a faster tempo than the introduction, moves to a classic two-beat feel, and then slides into the signature Blakey groove. It is interesting to hear, but I would guess that Woody Shaw was (initially) a bit ill at ease. An atypical yet ultimately worthwhile performance.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: A La Mode

Track

A La Mode

Group

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

CD

Keystone 3 (Concord Jazz CJ 196)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Art Blakey (drums), Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), Branford Marsalis (alto sax), Billy Pierce (tenor sax),

Donald Brown (piano), Charles Fambrough (bass)

.

Composed by Curtis Fuller

.

Recorded: live at The Keystone Corner, San Francisco, CA, January 1982

Albumcoverartblakeyandthejazzmessengers-keystone3

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

This dynamic live version of the Curtis Fuller composition features fine solo work from the Marsalis brothers, Billy Pierce and pianist Donald Brown. After superb opening fills from Blakey, the group briefly struggles with tempo issues (I don't think the front line expected the melody to be quite so fast!), but they quickly settle in and perform the head and their subsequent solos flawlessly. Highlights include a brief yet first-rate solo statement from Pierce and a playful Wynton Marsalis, who alternates moments of displaying his virtuosic technique with witty chitchat among his bandmates.

Reviewer: Eric Novod



Add your comments here

Check out more ‘Dozens’ here