Oct 11, 2019
Today marks the centennial of the birth of perhaps the most influential drummer - if not the most influential band leader - of the second half of the 20th century. I speak of Art Blakey.
His career spanned all of modern jazz, from learning in the big bands of Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine to cutting contests with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. After a conversion to Islam in the late Forties (briefly changing his name to Abdullah Ibn Buhaina) he came to basically invent what we call Hard Bop, first with Horace Silver, and then with a constantly changing group of musicians known as the Jazz Messengers. He helped make the Blue Note label the wonder that it became.
To be a member of the Jazz Messengers was the ultimate validation of a young jazz musician. From the late Fifties until his final iteration with Blakey's death in 1990, he mentored the likes of Silver, Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, Benny Golson, Jymie Merritt, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, Reggie Workman, Gary Bartz, Woody Shaw, John Hicks, Stanley Clarke, George Cables, Valery Ponomarev, Bobby Watson, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Mulgrew Miller, Wallace Roney, Kenny Garrett, Robin Eubanks, Javon Jackson, Benny Green, Peter Washington, Brian Lynch, Geoff Keezer, and Steve Davis, among many others. Have mercy!
Blakey was known for forcing his band members to experiment and grow, making sure they wrote tunes and brought them in for the band to record. His own talents are estimable - check out monster chops on "The Freedom Rider" - but his ability to create a band, mold a sound, and develop talent was his greatest legacy.
Most of the selections for the Podcast come from Jazz Messenger recordings, but I would be remiss if I did not dig into some of Buhaina's sideman gigs as well, given that was in demand by the greatest, from Miles to Monk, Coltrane to Rollins. About 70 minutes of his music presented here includes:
"In Walked Bud" with Thelonious Monk
"The Freedom Rider"
"Along Came Betty"
"Dig" with Miles Davis, Jackie McLean and Sonny Rollins
"All the Things You Are" with Johnny Griffin, John Coltrane, Hank Mobley and Lee Morgan
and of course,