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NOTE: I am still working on getting my medical insurance carrier to provide (read: pay for) the help I need to mitigate the effects of my sleep apnea. In the meantime, over the course of the last week I did manage to cobble together a few words (around 1,280 of them) about a superb jazz album that I think you will like a lot.

Let’s cut to the chase: Art Blakey was perhaps the best drummer to ever pick up sticks. Certainly among the top 5.

The dynamo of the drum kit was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on October 11, 1919 and died on October 16, 1990 in New York City. His first musical instrument was the piano, but in his early teens he switched to drums and he was playing professionally before he entered high school.

He will forever be remembered as the founder (along with Horace Silver) of one of the most legendary groups in the history of jazz, the Jazz Messengers. Unlike some groups, which remain essentially unchanged over the years, the Jazz Messengers experienced a constant churn as players matured under Blakey’s tutelage and then left the group to strike out on their own.

An exhaustive list of the people Blakey work with is beyond the scope of this blog, but a representative example would have to include Horace Silver, Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Billy Eckstine, and Sonny Stitt, to name only a few.

In 2014, Blakey’s 1954 double album “A Night At Birdland” volumes 1 and 2 were among the 25 albums inducted into the Library Of Congress’ National Recording Registry. Blakey’s fellow inductees that year included Elmore James, U2, Aaron Copeland, and the Everly Brothers.

For a more complete listing of Blakey’s accomplishments, see the links at the end of this article.

When Art Blakey died in 1990, he left a musical legacy that few have equaled. The Blakey album I am doing to tell you about this week was recorded in 1963, when he was at the height of his abilities and popularity.

The album I’m referring to is the Art Blakey Quartet’s MCA release, “A Jazz Message.”

Art Blakey - A Jazz Message - 1963

Art Blakey – A Jazz Message – 1963

The personnel for this one were:

Art Blakey, drums
Sonny Stitt, sax
McCoy Tyner, piano
Art Davis, drums

“A Jazz Message” gives us six songs. Two were written by Blakey with Sonny Stitt, a third is from the pen of McCoy Tyner, and the rest are from various others.

The album opens with back-to-back presentations of both of the Blakey/Stitt compositions, beginning with “Café.” Davis’s bass solos the first few seconds, then is quickly joined by first Blakey, then Tyner. About forty-five seconds in, Stitt steps up to the mic and joins in, and the pace quickens considerably. Stitt keeps the lead for a while and then steps aside and hands off to Tyner. McCoy runs with it for a while (if one can be said to run while playing a piano!), then Davis takes a turn while Blakey beats time on the rim of a tom. Then at about the four minute mark, Stitt and Blakey both trade off statements, followed by Tyner once again with Davis. “Café” is an interesting song, and I think you’ll like it.

Here is the Art Blakey Quartet, performing “Café”:

As I mentioned, “Café” is followed by the other Blakey/Stitt collaboration, a wonderful number called “Just Knock On My Door.” Davis once again takes the head, only this time he is joined by Stitt after a few seconds. Stitt takes the lead and runs riffs right and left, keeping the lead until about two and a half minutes in, at which point he hands off to Tyner. This is a great blues piece with a catchy sound that will quickly grab you and won’t let go.

You’ll find the boys knocking themselves out with “Just Knock On My Door” right here:

After “Just Knock On My Door” we have the classic “Summertime,” form George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. Although this is the shortest song on the disk (a disk that is itself short, running only a little over 30 minutes), this is a great song performed wonderfully.

“Summertime” can be found here:

The fourth song on the album, and the last one I have time to tell you about, is Tyner’s contribution, “Blues Back.” At this point, it is worth mentioning that at the time this album was recorded, Tyner’s career was only getting started. He had been in John Coltrane’s group, his first big-time professional gig, for only three years. I think it is a measure of his talent (and Blakey’s commitment to helping up-and-coming future stars) that he not only appears on every track of this recording, but also got a song of his included.

“Blues Back” is, as you might guess, a blues. (Duh. Ha.) Tyner wrote himself a great opening sequence, with Blakey’s ride cymbal adding an electric brilliance to the proceedings, and all the while Davis’ bass supports them all. When Stitt joins in it’s almost anti-climactic, but you know the song is better for his being there.

Here is “Blues Back”:

All in all, I have to tell you that The Art Blakey Quartet album “A Jazz Message” is one of the best jazz albums I have ever heard. I do absolutely believe that it will make an outstanding addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!

If you’d like to learn more about Art Blakey and his music, you’re in luck because there are oodles of authoritative web sites out there with great articles about him.

The best place to start would be Art Blakey’s own web site, which is maintained by his estate. The folks over at NPR have a nice assortment of articles about Blakey, and PBS has an extensive biography. And of course allmusic.com has a nice bio of him as well.

Speaking of biographies, biography.com has a nice write-up also. On the moribund jazz.com you will find a review listing what the writer considers to be the 12 most essential Blakey tracks. Last but certainly not least, drummerworld.com dishes up a nice bio and links to several videos of Blakey performing live.

If that’s not enough to quench your Blakey thirst, try this: https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=art+blakey&start=0 and happy hunting to you!

Thanks for reading this.

Al Evans
Wood Village, Oregon

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NEXT TIME:

One of the “young lions” of the 1990’s will be represented by an album that was only his second as a leader and which teamed him with… Um, well, that would be telling. 🙂

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My original content, including photos other than album covers, Copyright © 2015 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.

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