Art Blakey Day

October 11, 1919 – October 16, 1990

A tribute to the influential bandleader

Drummer and leader Art Blakey was born on October 11, 1919 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

An orphan soon after his birth, he was raised by a family friend and originally played piano professionally while still quite young.

However he was replaced on a job by the young Erroll Garner and persuaded to play drums instead.

Blakey picked up early experience playing with Mary Lou Williams, the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and, most importantly, the Billy Eckstine big band during 1944-47 where he learned how to play bebop.

After leading his own short-lived big band (the Seventeen Messengers), Blakey spent some time living in Africa, worked with Thelonious Monk and Buddy DeFranco (1951-53), recorded with Miles Davis and also at Birdland at the head of an all-star quintet that included Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson and Horace Silver.

In 1954 Blakey and Silver formed the Jazz Messengers, the definitive hard bop group; after Silver and the other sidemen departed, Blakey held onto the name for the next 35 years.

The Jazz Messengers became essentially a post-graduate school for top young hard bop musicians who Blakey encouraged to write new music, learn how to swing hard, and then leave and form their own groups when they were ready.

The roster of major artists who were members of the Jazz Messengers is quite long; a partial list includes trumpeters Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Chuck Mangione, Woody Shaw, Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, and Brian Lynch, trombonist Curtis Fuller, tenor-saxophonists Johnny Griffin, Benny Golson, Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, John Gilmore, Bill Pierce and Javon Jackson, altoists Jackie McLean, Bobby Watson, Branford Marsalis and Donald Harrison, pianists Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons, Cedar Walton, Keith Jarrett, Joanne Brackeen, Mulgrew Miller, Benny Green, James Williams and Geoff Keezer, and bassist Reggie Workman among many others.

Art Blakey kept the Jazz Messengers together until his death in 1990 at the age of 71.

Here is the 1958 version of the Jazz Messengers with Lee Morgan, Benny Golson and Bobby Timmons performing “Moanin’.”

-Scott Yanow