Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 11 October 1919, Pittsburgh PA; d 16 October 1990; Islamic name: Abdulla Ibn Buhaina) Drummer, leader; discoverer of more stars than anyone else in jazz. Worked in steel mills, played piano in clubs, switched to drums; went to NYC; played with Mary Lou Williams '42, Fletcher Henderson '43, led his own band in Boston, Billy Eckstine '44-7, led his own group, Buddy DeFranco quartet '51-3. He used the name Messengers for a 17-piece band and an octet called Jazz Messengers '47; led a Birdland quintet early '54 with Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson, Curley Russell, Horace Silver; later that year Blue Note recording artist Silver set up a quintet date with Blakey, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, bassist Doug Watkins (b 2 March 1934, Detroit; superb player later recorded with Mal Waldron; killed in road crash 5 February 1962): Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers invented 'hard bop', with modern harmonies but based on the blues and less uncompromising than bop itself: the style became Blue Note's mainstay and remains influential to this day. Silver stayed for two years and helped set the tone with fine tunes; Blakey led quintets and sextets called the Jazz Messengers from then on (except a hiatus with Giants of Jazz tours '71-2, and other freelance work): international tours, many albums on Blue Note and other labels; the message never failed to please. Orgy In Rhythm Vols 1 And 2 on Blue Note CD compiled '57 tracks included Latin percussionists Sabú and Patato Valdez.

The band was floundering a bit when Benny Golson joined; Golson brought in young Philadelphians, taught Blakey how to run the band like a business and the importance of getting the young turks to write original material. With Golson Blakey got a composer credit on the score for Edouard Molinaro film Des Femmes Disparaissent '58; the band heard in the soundtrack also included Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, Jymie Merritt on bass (b James Raleigh Merritt, 3 May 1926, Philadelphia; d 10 April 2020). Golson didn't stay long, replaced by Wayne Shorter; the recordings of the '60 band were compiled by Mosaic in a limited edition '92 to make one of the best Blakey sets ever. He learned Golson's lesson well and turned out to be one of the all-time great talent scouts, over the years employing Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, Johnny Griffin, Junior Mance, Cedar Walton etc; the '72 band included Mickey Tucker, Cameron Brown, trumpeter Bill Hardman (b 6 April 1933, Cleveland OH; d December 1990 Paris), David Schnitter on tenor (LP on Lotus Art Blakey And His Jazz Messengers recorded live in Oslo and Tunis).

Other albums included In This Korner '78 (with Valery Ponomarev, trumpet; Bobby Watson, alto sax), Straight Ahead '81 (with Watson and Wynton Marsalis), Keystone 3 '82 (with both Wynton and Branford Marsalis), all on Concord Jazz; In My Prime Vols 1 And 2 '77-8, Reflections In Blue '78, Album Of The Year '81 with Wynton, Oh, By The Way '82, all on Timeless. James Williams played piano '80-1 (b 8 March 1951, Memphis; influenced by Phineas Newborn, Williams made albums on Concord and Sunnyside, became a highly respected educator; d 20 July 2004 of liver cancer.) In '84-5 the band included Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Mulgrew Miller, Lonnie Plaxico on bass (b 4 September 1960, Chicago), Jean Toussaint on tenor sax (b 27 July 1957, island of Aruba; later taught at the Guildhall School of Music in London); albums included New York Scene and Live At Kimball's on Concord Jazz, Blue Night on Timeless; in '86 Toussaint became music director with a new lineup: Wallace Roney on trumpet (b 25 May 1960, Philadelphia; d 31 March 2020 of the corona virus: Blue Dawn - Blue Nights 2019 on HighNote was his 22nd album as a leader), Kenny Garrett on alto (b 9 October 1960), Timothy Williams on trombone (b 17 September 1957), Donald Brown on piano (b 28 March 1954), Peter Washington on bass (b 28 August 1964), a new crop of stars-to-be. Live At Montreux And Northsea '80 on Timeless included Ponomarev, Watson, both Marsalises, Billy Pierce on tenor (Blakey called Pierce 'the best tenor player I've had since Wayne Shorter'; see his entry), Kevin Eubanks on guitar (the only guitarist ever featured by Blakey, b 15 November 1957, Philadelphia; played with Sam Rivers '82; own albums on Elektra, GRP). Classic Blakey sets usually available on Blue Note include A Night At Birdland (two vols with Clifford Brown); Jazz Connection '57 with Monk; Moanin' '58; The Big Beat '60; many more. The Jazz Messengers At Cafe Bohemia made live '55 (two vols in USA, a third was a bonus record in Japan only). Art Blakey's Big Band '57 on Bethlehem included Al Cohn, John Coltrane, Ray Copeland, Walter Bishop Jr (b 10 April 1927 NYC; d 24 January 1998) on piano, Melba Liston and Jimmy Cleveland (b 3 May 1926, Watrace TN; d 23 August 2008) on trombones, many more. Blakey was one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time, combining power, good taste, unique swing: pianist Miller describes him as 'a master of tension and release'. Another side was revealed on the Giants of Jazz tour in London '71; Blakey and bassist Al McKibbon (b 1 January 1919, Chicago; d 29 July 2005) recorded with Thelonious Monk as a trio.