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Art Blakey

Art Blakey (Abdullah Ibn Buhaina) worked with Fletcher Henderson 1939; Billy Eckstine 1944-7, Buddy DeFranco Quartet 1951-3. He started working as a leader at Birdland in 1954. His group evolved into the Jazz Messengers, who came to prominence in 1955 and toured the US and Europe during the next five years.

Despite changes in personnel, Blakey continued to dominate the particular area of jazz of which he had become a symbol (ie. hard bop), with a tremendous kinetic force for which the leader's inventive and stimulating work was largely responsible. Of the several groups he has fronted, perhaps the most impressive and certainly the best organized, was the sextet featuring Freddie Hubbard (or Lee Morgan), Curtis Fuller and Wayne Shorter, from 1962-5. Shorter's arrangements gave the group somewhat more modern cast, though the basically dynamic quality of the group was retained.

After the breakup of the sextet early in 1965, Blakey returned to quintet format, toward the end of the year he started an entirely new group including Chuck Mangione and Keith Jarrett. Although he continued to freelance on records, notably with Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, Cannonball Adderley, and Hank Mobley, Blakey was rarely heard in public away from the Jazz Messengers after 1955; the major exception was with the Giants of Jazz 1971-2. His brillant playing remained largely unchanged for three and his solo work, in its concentration on the snare drum, is a reminder that his style was formed during the Swing era. Yet his accompaniment relies on the rhythmic complexity of bebop. For in addition to the driving beat of his right hand and the left foot (and even the left hand on the snare, at medium tempos such as "Moanin"), Blakey introduces all manner of cross-rhythms behind a soloist. If the soloist's inspiration begins to flag, Blakey lifts him on to another plane.

Most importantly of all, perhaps is that in his long career Blakey always exuded excitement but channeled it to enhance the ensemble, just as the swing era drummers did. As a result the ensembles he led no matter what the personnel at any particular moment became cornerstones of the jazz traditions.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Art Blakey
  • Subtitle: A Man and His Music
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