May 9, 2017

BBR drummer week crashes to an end with Arthur “Art” Blakey.  Art was born in Pittsburgh where he taught himself to play piano. His mom died when Art was small and he started playing music professionally in his teens. Legend has it he switched to the drums after a Pittsburgh club owner pulled a gun on him so he’d move from the piano one night to make room for Errol Garner. From there he played in swing bands led by Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine before joining the be-bop movement. He took on and shortly thereafter discarded the name Andullah Ibn Buhaina during a conversion to Islam.  The number 2 man on the BBR drummer week fiesta Max Roach said of Art:

“Art was an original… He’s the only drummer whose time I recognize immediately. And his signature style was amazing; we used to call him ‘Thunder.’ When I first met him on 52d Street in 1944, he already had the polyrhythmic thing down. Art was the perhaps the best at maintaining independence with all four limbs. He was doing it before anybody was.”

Besides his astounding drumming, Art was perhaps the best talent scout in the history of jazz. After starting the Jazz Messengers with Horace Silver and keeping the name for himself after Silver left, Art hired the following, partial list for his band:

Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Wynton Kelly, Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham, Wynton Marsalis and Javon Jackson.

Art played on both the first and last recordings by Monk, in addition to backing Bird, Bud and Miles.  He only arrived at the name Jazz Messengers after a big band he had called Seventeen Messengers had failed.   To paraphrase Rickey Henderson, today Art is the greatest of all time. The king of BBR drummer week- Art Blakey.

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