WUSF All Night Jazz Centennial Celebration: Art Blakey

October marks the centennial of one of the most prolific and influential jazz musicians in history, drummer Art Blakey.

Born in Pittsburgh, PA, October 11, 1919, Blakey claims his love affair with the drums began at the wrong end of a pistol. Originally a pianist, he says he was forced onto the drum kit at gun point by a club owner in order to allow a young Erroll Garner to play piano.

At an early age Blakey toured as big band drummer Chick Webb’s valet. Webb was best known for discovering Ella Fitzgerald. Blakey eventually went to New York with bebop pianist Mary Lou Williams in 1942 and shortly thereafter joined the Fletcher Henderson big band.

In the late 1940s Blakey formed several versions of what were called the Jazz Messengers but it was the 1954 version, co-led by Horace Silver, that first recorded and caught fire. The band’s hard driving blending of bebop, gospel and rhythm and blues, known as hard bop, became a commercial success for the Blue Note Record label.

Silver departed to form his own band shortly thereafter, leaving Blakey the Jazz Messengers moniker which he kept until his passing in 1990. Not only did Blakey enjoy a long and fruitful career, he also managed to keep this classic band, The Jazz Messengers, together from the early 1950s until his passing in 1990.

The key to Blakey’s longevity was his ability to find and develop young talent. His legacy is the long list of stellar players and great composers including Wayne Shorter, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, Wynton Marsalis and many, many others who proudly developed and performed as Jazz Messengers.

We’ll celebrate the music of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers all MONTH on All Night Jazz.