Art Blakey this weekend. From a concert given in Düsseldorf, West Germany on November 18th 1959, and The Jazz Messengers; the classic third lineup featuring Lee Morgan on Trumpet, Wayne Shorter on sax, Walter Davis on piano and Jymie Merrit on bass.
To me, Art Blakey was one of the pivotal figures in Jazz drumming; drumming in general, actually. I always felt he was the one who took the drums, from being the metronome behind a band, to being an instrument with shades and nuances. In short, he was someone who freed up drumming. And it was this freedom that changed the way a lot of drummers looked at their roles in connection with a group setting. And it wasn’t just in the context of Jazz. I can’t think of many Rock drummers who haven’t listened to or been influenced by Art Blakey over the years – whether you liked Jazz or not, listening to what Blakey was doing was enough to give you ideas. And those ideas formed the backbone of what became Rock in the 1960s. I never had the chance to ask him, but I would bet you Keith Moon formed a lot of his approach to drumming via Art Blakey. And since he was a Jazz fan to begin with, Soft Machine’s Robert Wyatt displayed a lot of Blakey-influenced licks in his early material.
And even if it wasn’t a direct connection – I think what Blakey was doing managed to get into the universal consciousness of a lot of drummers in the late 1950s onwards. And maybe this was the natural progression of things – starting with Afro-Cuban rhythms of the 1940s (i.e. Machito) and extending it from there.
Whatever it was, Blakey and many of his contemporaries (i.e. Paul Motian) took the form and added it to a rich mix of musical influences and styles which became so much a part of Jazz from the post-war period on.
Even if you aren’t a fan of Jazz, but love Music anyway, check this concert out. Fingers crossed it will put you in the direction to check out more. Much the same as it did for me when I first heard it as an over-active 12 year old.
Caveat: Since this is from a 1959 broadcast, the quality bounces around, but it’s all listenable and enjoyable. Stereo, it isn’t – but then, neither does it sound like it was recorded next to Niagara Falls. Sometimes, magic is a bit hazy.