THE DOZENS: THE BEST OF THE ART BLAKEY ALUMS by Eric Novod

There are post-Swing Era bandleaders, and then there is Art Blakey. After a brief time spent developing his craft by performing with the likes of Billy Eckstine, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon and Charlie Parker in the late 1940s, Blakey jumped headlong into a career as an ultra-successful bandleader. During a period spanning more than forty years, Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers produced hundreds of outstanding records and thrived amidst countless lineup changes, each one featuring up-and-coming musicians that received the finest jazz education in the business.



      Art Blakey at Birdland, photo by Marcel Fleiss

Blakey set the standard for running a successful group. He displayed an uncanny knack for finding talent, keeping loyal audiences interested and constantly appealing to new generations of jazz fans – all while remaining one of hard bop’s leading drummers. It is with this admiration for Blakey’s accomplishments as a recruiter of jazz talent that we present twelve tracks from alumni of the “Blakey School” performing some of the world’s best-known standards.

This installment of “The Dozens” discusses each artist’s time with Blakey, and then highlights a track of that musician’s work as a leader that realizes the scope of Art Blakey’s influence.



Horace Silver featuring Hank Mobley: My One and Only Love

Track

My One and Only Love

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

The Stylings of Silver (Blue Note 1562)

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Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Hank Mobley (tenor sax),

Art Farmer (trumpet), Teddy Kotick (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)

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Composed by Robert Mellin and Guy B. Wood

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Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, May 8, 1957

Albumcoverhoracesilver-thestylingsofsilver

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Horace Silver, the first in a long line of legendary Jazz Messenger pianists, performed on many of the famous early Art Blakey collaborations with trumpeters Clifford Brown and Kenny Dorham in 1954 and '55. Upon leaving the group shortly thereafter, Silver's reputation as one of the great hard-bop composers was solidified through his consistently swinging Blue Note recordings. On this album of mostly Silver originals, the sole cover choice is an inspired version of the standard "My One and Only Love." Note Silver's expressive (yet traditional) interpretation of the melody and the double-time tenor work of Hank Mobley, a fellow Blakey alum.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Wynton Kelly: Autumn Leaves

Track

Autumn Leaves

Artist

Wynton Kelly (piano)

CD

Birmingham Jazz Festival, Volume 4, The Early Years (Consolidated Artists Productions)

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Musicians:

Wynton Kelly (piano),

unknown bassist and drummer

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Composed by Joseph Kosma & Jacques Prevert

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Recorded: Birmingham Jazz Festival, 1961

Albumcoverwyntonkelly-birminghamjazzfestival-theearlyyears1961-volume4

Rating: 84/100 (learn more)

Wynton Kelly recorded only once with the Jazz Messengers – on an interesting 1957 session billed as The Jazz Messengers + 4 (released as Theory of Art and Second Edition 1957 ). Expanded to a nonet, this unique Messengers lineup featured Kelly and Art Blakey along with Lee Morgan, Sahib Shihab, Johnny Griffin and Cecil Payne, among others. Equally distinctive is this trio performance from the 1961 Birmingham Jazz Festival. After an extended unaccompanied intro, a whisper-soft rhythm section enters, but this is essentially a Kelly solo performance. His shifting between chordal expressions of the melody and his naturally soulful improvised lines make this track an excellent representation of Kelly's wide range of stylistic abilities.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Lee Morgan (with Bobby Timmons): Lover Man

Track

Lover Man

Artist

Lee Morgan (trumpet)

CD

The Cooker (Blue Note 1578)

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Musicians:

Lee Morgan (trumpet), Bobby Timmons (piano),

Pepper Adams (baritone sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

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Composed by James Edward Davis, Ram Ramirez & Jimmy Sherman

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Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, September 29, 1957

Albumcoverleemorgan-thecooker

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Prior to his official membership in the Jazz Messengers with 1958's Moanin', Lee Morgan released some of his most revered early sessions as a leader, from City Lights to Candy to this late-'57 release, The Cooker. The unique baritone/trumpet front line combined with the exceptional rhythm section makes this a must-listen. At the top of his game, Morgan could improvise some of the most complete, structured solos the genre has ever heard, and his solo statement over this classic ballad demonstrates that gift.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Curtis Fuller: What Is This Thing Called Love

Track

What Is This Thing Called Love

Artist

Curtis Fuller (trombone)

CD

New Trombone (Prestige / OJC 7107)

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Musicians:

Curtis Fuller (trombone), Hank Jones (piano),

Sonny Red Kyner (alto sax), Doug Watkins (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)

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Composed by Cole Porter

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Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, May 11,1957

Albumcovercurtisfuller-newtrombone

Rating: 87/100 (learn more)

Curtis Fuller was the first and longest standing trombonist featured in the Jazz Messengers, and was a member of some of that band's most famous front lines. He shared the bandstand most notably with Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter on recordings such as Mosaic, Buhaina's Delight, Caravan and 3 Blind Mice Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. On this pre-Messengers track, Fuller and Hank Jones overshadow Red Kyner and the solid yet imperfect Latin-to-swing transitions by the rhythm section over the head of this classic tune. A fine Doug Watkins solo is answered by Fuller's brief yet exceptional second improvised statement at the tune's conclusion.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Freddie Hubbard: But Beautiful

Track

But Beautiful

Artist

Freddie Hubbard (trumpet)

CD

Open Sesame (Blue Note 4040)

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Musicians:

Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Tina Brooks (tenor sax),

McCoy Tyner (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Clifford Jarvis (drums)

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Composed by Johnny Burke & Jimmy Van Heusen

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Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, June 19, 1960

Albumcoverfreddiehubbard-opensesame

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Freddie Hubbard was among the most frequent members of the Jazz Messengers' later years. He first appeared with the band in late 1961, recorded with frontline partners Curtis Fuller and Wayne Shorter, and appeared with the group as late as 1989 for The Art of Jazz. This outstanding 1960 session with the unique lineup of Tina Brooks, McCoy Tyner and Clifford Jarvis slightly predates Hubbard's arrival on the Messenger bandstand. Among the heavy hitters on this track, Brooks is the true standout, sensitively supporting Hubbard's poignant melody statement and following it with a superb improvised solo. These are young masters at the top of their game.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Keith Jarrett: My Funny Valentine

Track

My Funny Valentine

Artist

Keith Jarrett (piano)

CD

Up For It (ECM 1860)

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Musicians:

Keith Jarrett (piano), Gary Peacock (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums).

Composed by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

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Recorded: live in Juan-les-Pins, France, July 2002

Albumcoverkeithjarrett-upforit

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Keith Jarrett's membership on the Jazz Messengers alumni roll may surprise some, yet in January 1966, Art Blakey assembled what must be considered one of his most unusual groups, featuring himself, Jarrett, trumpeter Chuck Mangione, tenor saxophonist Frank Mitchell and bassist Reggie Workman. The results can be heard on the CD Buttercorn Lady. Following his short stint with Blakey, Jarrett moved on to become a regular member of Charles Lloyd's group, and shortly thereafter began his career as a bandleader. His legendary trio performances with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette (the latter of whom also performed in Lloyd's group) is presented here in all of its interactive glory while weaving in and out of the standard of all standards, "My Funny Valentine."

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Benny Golson: My Romance

Track

My Romance

Artist

Benny Golson (tenor sax)

CD

Free (Argo 716)

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Musicians:

Benny Golson (tenor sax), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Art Taylor (drums).

Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

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Recorded: New York, December 26, 1962

Albumcoverbennygolson-free

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

The ever-underrated tenor saxophonist Benny Golson has written some of modern jazz's best known standards ("I Remember Clifford," Whisper Not," "Stablemates"), and also performed with the likes of Tadd Dameron, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, and Art Farmer. A member of the Jazz Messengers in 1958 during the recording of the classic Moanin', Golson recommended both Lee Morgan and Bobby Timmons for the group, assisting in assembling one of Art Blakey's more essential hard-bop lineups. This track, recorded a few years after Golson's Messenger service, features his extended ballad improvisation enhanced by Flanagan's and Carter's exemplary support.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Kenny Dorham: I'll Remember April

Track

I'll Remember April

Artist

Kenny Dorham (trumpet)

CD

Jazz Contrasts (Riverside 1105)

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Musicians:

Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), Hank Jones (piano), Oscar Pettiford (bass), Max Roach (drums).

Composed by Gene de Paul, Patricia Johnston & Don Raye

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Recorded: New York, May 21, 1957

Albumcoverkennydorham-jazzcontrasts

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

Excepting the legendary Clifford Brown/Art Blakey collaborations recorded live at Birdland in 1954, Kenny Dorham was first in line of the many memorable Jazz Messengers trumpeters. Performing mostly alongside Hank Mobley, Horace Silver and Doug Watkins, Dorham can be heard on such Messenger classics as Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers and The Jazz Messengers at Café Bohemia Vol. 1, Vol. 2 and Vol. 3. This classic all-star track, however, finds Dorham trading off the melody's A and B sections with Sonny Rollins, no less, before each rattles off a blistering solo. A brief Hank Jones solo is followed by a brilliantly conceived and executed melodic turn from Roach. If there is a single imperfect Max Roach solo out there, someone please let the drummers of the world know about it!

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Woody Shaw: All the Things You Are

Track

All the Things You Are

Artist

Woody Shaw (trumpet)

CD

Night Music (Elektra 60299-1)

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Musicians:

Woody Shaw (trumpet), Steve Turre (trombone), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Mulgrew Miller (piano), Stafford James (bass),

Tony Reedus (drums)

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Composed by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II

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Recorded: live at The Jazz Forum, New York, February 25, 1982

Albumcoverwoodyshaw-nightmusic

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Half of the band featured on Night Music, one of Woody Shaw's final recordings, is alumni of the "Blakey School." Shaw first appeared with Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers in 1969 and reappeared sporadically throughout the early 1970s. Turre joined in 1973 (as Shaw was departing) and Mulgrew Miller arrived in 1985, nearly three years after this track was recorded. The arrangement is fairly standard, with the classic intro and a delicate delivery of the melody by Shaw and Hutcherson. The soloists (Shaw, Hutcherson, James) are all in fine form, and Turre's improvised fills over the final statement of the melody provide an appreciated concluding lift. Another highlight is listening to Hutcherson's and Miller's sympathetic interplay behind Shaw's solo.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Wynton Marsalis: Cherokee

Track

Cherokee

Artist

Wynton Marsalis (trumpet)

CD

Live at the Village Vanguard

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Musicians:

Wynton Marsalis (trumpet),

Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Wes Anderson, Walter Blanding, Jr. (saxes), Marcus Roberts (piano), Reginald Veal (bass), Herlin Riley (drums)

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Composed by Ray Noble

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Recorded: live at the Village Vanguard, New York, probably early 1990s

Albumcoverwyntonmarsalis-liveatthevillagevanguard

Rating: 89/100 (learn more)

Putting aside our collectively diverse opinions on Marsalis's extra-musical contributions to jazz, it is nearly impossible to listen to Wynton's playing with the Jazz Messengers in the 1980s and his seven-disc boxed set from the Village Vanguard in the 1990s and not marvel at his technical and musical prowess. On this track from Disc 1 of the Vanguard box, Marsalis absolutely rips through "Cherokee" at a predictably blistering pace for nearly seven minutes, combining his classical chops with a noticeable homage to the masters who have previously recorded this classic.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Kenny Garrett: Night and Day

Track

Night and Day

Artist

Kenny Garrett (alto sax)

CD

Triology (Warner Bros. 45731)

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Musicians:

Kenny Garrett (alto sax), Charnett Moffett (bass), Brian Blade (drums).

Composed by Cole Porter

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Recorded: New York, 1995

Albumcoverkennygarrett-tiology

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Kenny Garrett's 1986-1987 stint with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (he was concurrently a steady member of Miles Davis's group) was documented on two recordings: Feeling Good and Hard Champion. Combine Garrett's experience with Blakey and Miles with his earlier work with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, and Garrett was well on his way to solidifying his reputation as his generation's leading altoist. Garrett's playing on this track is evidence enough, with one phenomenal idea after another arising from his improvisation. Blade anticipates Garrett's every move and supports and pushes him along throughout this standout track.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Geoff Keezer: Stompin' at the Savoy

Track

Stompin' at the Savoy

Artist

Geoff Keezer (piano)

CD

Turn Up the Quiet (Sony 68988)

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Musicians:

Geoff Keezer (piano), Joshua Redman (tenor sax), Christian McBride (bass).

Composed by Benny Goodman, Andy Razaf, Edgar Sampson & Chick Webb

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Recorded: December 16-21, 1996

Albumcovergeoffkeezer-turnupthequiet

Rating: 83/100 (learn more)

Geoff Keezer performed in the final installment of the Jazz Messengers. He is therefore featured on a couple of original albums (The Last Drum Solo and One For All), and also performed in some celebratory festival performances designated as "Jazz Messenger and Friends" (see The Art of Jazz, recorded live at the Leverkusen Jazz Festival in Germany in 1989). As per usual, Keezer's early experience in Blakey's band led to the solidification of his own career, and 1996's Turn Up the Quiet features the then 26-year- old performing with Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, and on select tracks, vocalist Diana Krall. This instrumental trio track showcases Keezer's talents as both instrumentalist and arranger, with his modernized interpretation of "Stompin' at the Savoy."

Reviewer: Eric Novod



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