This Friday marks what would be the 100th birthday of Art Blakey, the legendary drummer and bandleader who changed jazz and what it meant to lead a band.
Born in Pittsburgh on Oct. 11, 1919, Blakey taught himself to play and was leading groups at the age of 14. After playing with Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown and Horace Silver in the early ‘50s, he started a collective with Brown and Silver called The Jazz Messengers. That band would come to define a new style of jazz called hard bop, a more driving and rhythmic form of the genre that was more bluesy than bebop.
Blakey was thunderous in his drumming. He had a take-no-prisoners style that was uniquely his own, yet he always found a way to fit in perfectly with his bandmates.
The list of musicians that played in Blakey’s band is remarkable: Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller, Johnny Griffin, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, Woody Shaw, Joanne Brackeen, Bobby Watson and three of the Marsalis brothers (Wynton, Branford and Delfeayo), to name just a few. Blakey mentored all of these musicians who then went on to form their own groups, and their own legacies.
Blakey was named an NEA Jazz Master in 1988, two years before he died at the age of 71.
If you’ve never done a deep dive into the work of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, here are a few essential tunes to get you started.