Art Blakey

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Art Blakey
Art Blakey.jpg
Background information
Birth nameArthur Blakey
Also known asAbdullah Ibn Buhaina
Born(1919-10-11)October 11, 1919
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania United States
DiedOctober 16, 1990(1990-10-16) (aged 71)
New York City, United States
GenresJazz, hard bop, bebop
OccupationsMusician, bandleader
InstrumentsDrums, percussion
Years active1942–1990
LabelsBlue Note
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Art Blakey
Art Blakey.jpg
Background information
Birth nameArthur Blakey
Also known asAbdullah Ibn Buhaina
Born(1919-10-11)October 11, 1919
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania United States
DiedOctober 16, 1990(1990-10-16) (aged 71)
New York City, United States
GenresJazz, hard bop, bebop
OccupationsMusician, bandleader
InstrumentsDrums, percussion
Years active1942–1990
LabelsBlue Note

Arthur "Art" Blakey (October 11, 1919 – October 16, 1990), known later as Abdullah Ibn Buhaina, was an American Grammy Award-winning jazz drummer and bandleader.

Along with Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, Blakey was one of the inventors of the modern bebop style of drumming. He is known as a powerful musician; his brand of bluesy, funky hard bop was and continues to be influential on mainstream jazz. For more than 30 years his band Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers included young musicians who went on to become prominent names in jazz. Blakey's legacy is thus not only the music produced, but also for his bands' serving as proving ground for generations of jazz musicians—where observers suggest his impact is matched only by that of Miles Davis.

Blakey was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame (in 1982), the Grammy Hall of Fame (in 2001), and was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

Early family life[edit]

Blakey was born on October 11, 1919 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania[1] to a single mother, who he lost shortly after his birth.[2] He is described as having been "raised with his siblings by a family friend who became a surrogate mother"; little is known about this context, but Blakey "received some piano lessons at school",[3] and was able to spend some further time teaching himself.[4] By the time he was in seventh grade, Blakey was playing music full-time and had begun to take on adult responsibilities, playing the piano to earn money and learning to be a band leader.[3][5] Shortly afterwards,[when?] perhaps because he was forced by a club manager,[2] or perhaps because he feared being unable to compete with fellow pianist Erroll Garner,[citation needed] he taught himself to play the drums. As noted in supporting biographical materials for the Ken Burns' "Jazz" documentary, the style Blakey would assume was the aggressive swing style of his contemporaries Chick Webb, Sid Catlett and Ray Bauduc.[3]

Music before the Messengers[edit]

Around his 23rd birthday, Blakey joined Mary Lou Williams as a drummer for an engagement in New York (autumn 1942).[citation needed] He then toured with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra (1939–42).[citation needed] During his years with Billy Eckstine's big band (1944–47), Blakey became associated with the bebop movement, along with his fellow band members Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Fats Navarro and others.[6]

By the late forties and early fifties, Blakey was backing musicians such as Davis, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk; he is often considered to have been Monk's most empathetic drummer,[7] and he played on both Monk's first recording session as a leader (for Blue Note Records in 1947) and his final one (in London in 1971), as well as many in between.[citation needed] In the early 1950s he performed and broadcast with such musicians as Charlie Parker and Davis.[citation needed]

Blakey traveled to Africa during in the late 1940s for a religious, cultural, and musical pilgrimage. He had converted to Islam during this period, taking the name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina (subsequent nickname, "Bu"), although he stopped being a practicing Muslim in the 1950s (see "Personal life", in following).[8]

The Jazz Messengers[edit]

Art Blakey on a tour billed as part of the "Giants of Jazz" in Hamburg, Germany in 1973

In 1947 Blakey organized the Seventeen Messengers, a rehearsal band, and recorded with an octet called The Jazz Messengers.[9] The use of the Messengers tag stuck only with the group co-led at first by both Blakey and pianist Horace Silver, though the name was not used on the earliest of their recordings. Blakey and Silver recorded together on several occasions, including A Night at Birdland Vol. 1 with trumpeter Clifford Brown and alto-saxophonist Lou Donaldson in 1954 for Blue Note Records, having formed in 1953 a regular cooperative group with Hank Mobley and Kenny Dorham.

The "Jazz Messengers" name was first used for this group on a 1954 recording nominally led by Silver, with Blakey, Mobley, Dorham and Doug Watkins – the same quintet recorded The Jazz Messengers at the Cafe Bohemia the following year, still functioning as a collective. Donald Byrd replaced Dorham, and the group recorded an album called simply The Jazz Messengers for Columbia Records in 1956. Blakey took over the group name when Silver left after the band's first year (taking Mobley, Byrd and Watkins with him to form a new quintet with a variety of drummers), and the band was known as "Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers" from then onwards with Blakey being the sole leader, and he remained associated with it for the rest of his life. It was the archetypal hard bop group of the 1950s, playing a driving, aggressive extension of bop with pronounced blues roots. Towards the end of the 1950s, the saxophonists Johnny Griffin and Benny Golson were in turn briefly members of the group. Golson, as music director, wrote several jazz standards which began as part of the band book, such as "I Remember Clifford", and "Blues March", and were frequently revived by later editions of the group. "Along Came Betty" and "Are You Real" were other Golson compositions for Blakey.

Performing at the Umeå jazz festival, Sweden. 1979

From 1959 to 1961 the group featured Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Lee Morgan on trumpet, pianist Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt on bass.[1] From 1961–64, the band was a sextet that added trombonist Curtis Fuller and replaced Morgan and Timmons with Freddie Hubbard and Cedar Walton, respectively.[1] Shorter was now the musical director of the group, and many of his original compositions such as "Lester Left Town" remained repertoire staples later on. (Other players over the years made permanent marks on Blakey's repertoire – Timmons, composer of "Dat Dere" and "Moanin'", and later, Bobby Watson.) Shorter's more experimental inclinations pushed the band at the time into an engagement with the 1960s "New Thing", as it was called: the influence of John Coltrane's contemporary records on Impulse! is evident on Free for All (1964).

Up to the 1960s Blakey also recorded as a sideman with many other musicians: Jimmy Smith, Herbie Nichols, Cannonball Adderley, Grant Green, and Jazz Messengers graduated Morgan and Mobley, amongst many others. On Shorter's 1964 departure the line up in 1965 included Nathan Davis on tenor sax, Jaki Byard on piano. Hubbard remained on trumpet. In the mid-1960s the band's line had more changes and on one recording session Sun Ra lead saxophonist John Gilmore held the tenor chair. After the mid-1960s Blakey mostly concentrated on his own work as a leader. He also made a world tour in 1971–1972 with the "Giants of Jazz" (with Dizzy Gillespie, Kai Winding, Sonny Stitt, Monk and Al McKibbon).[6]

Drumming style[edit]

Blakey assumed an aggressive swing style of contemporaries Chick Webb, Sid Catlett and Ray Bauduc early in his career,[3] and is known, alongside Kenny Clarke and Max Roach as one of the inventors of the modern bebop style of drumming.[citation needed] Blakey's ferociousness and tenacity while drumming earned him the nickname "Jazz Tiger", or "The Tiger of Jazz".[by whom?][citation needed] Max Roach described him thus:

"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."[5]

His drumming form made continuing use of the traditional grip, though in later appearances he is also seen using a matched grip.[10] As the supporting materials for Ken Burns' film, Jazz, notes, "Blakey is a major figure in modern jazz and an important stylist in drums. From his earliest recording sessions with Eckstine, and particularly in his historic sessions with Monk in 1947, he exudes power and originality, creating a dark cymbal sound punctuated by frequent loud snare and bass drum accents in triplets or cross-rhythms." This source continues:

"Although Blakey discourages comparison of his own music with African drumming, he adopted several African devices after his visit in 1948-9, including rapping on the side of the drum and using his elbow on the tom-tom to alter the pitch. Later he organized recording sessions with multiple drummers, including some African musicians and pieces. His much-imitated trademark, the forceful closing of the hi-hat on every second and fourth beat, has been part of his style since 1950–51. … A loud and domineering drummer, Blakey also listens and responds to his soloists."[6][11]

In the opinion of this source, Blakey's innovations in and contributions to jazz drumming were matched by his role as a "discoverer and molder of young [jazz] talent over three decades" (ibid.).

Later career and legacy[edit]

Jazz drummer and band leader Art Blakey at radio interview, KJAZ, Alameda CA Oct 11, 1982. (photo: Brian McMillen)

Blakey went on to record dozens of albums with a constantly changing group of Jazz Messengers. He had a policy of encouraging young musicians: as he remarked on-mike during the live session which resulted in the A Night at Birdland albums in 1954: "I'm gonna stay with the youngsters. When these get too old I'll get some younger ones. Keeps the mind active."[1] After weathering the fusion era in the 1970s with some difficulty (recordings from this period are less plentiful and include attempts to incorporate instruments like electric piano),[citation needed] Blakey's band got revitalized in the early 1980s with the advent of neotraditionalist jazz.[citation needed] Wynton Marsalis was for a time the band's trumpeter and musical director,[citation needed] and even after Marsalis's departure Blakey's band continued as a proving ground for many "Young Lions" like Johnny O'Neal, Philip Harper, Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison and Kenny Garrett.[citation needed] Blakey continued performing and touring with the group into the late 1980s; Ron Wynn notes that Blakey had "played with such force and fury that he eventually lost much of his hearing, and at the end of his life, often played strictly by instinct."[12]

Blakey's and his bands' legacy is thus not only known for the music they produced, but also in their role as a proving ground for several generations of jazz musicians.[13] Observers[who?] have stated the opinion that Blakey's groups' productivity and influence are matched only by those of Miles Davis.[14] Blakey was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame (in 1982), the Grammy Hall of Fame (in 2001), and was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.[8]

Personal life[edit]

In addition to his musical interests, Blakely has been described as a storyteller ("Art was a talker"), as having a "big appetite for music… women [and] food", and an interest in boxing (like "a lot of jazz musicians"; all per Jerry "Tiger" Pearson).[15] Blakey did marry 4 times, and had common law and other relationships throughout his life: marrying his first wife Clarice Stewart, while yet a teen, before joining Billy Eckstine’s Band (1937), being associated with Lorraine Poole in the 1950s, and marrying Diana Bates (1956), Atsuko Nakamura (1968), and Anne Arnold (1983; see Cohassey, and the Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History).[8] These relationships gave him 10 children—daughters Gwendolyn, Evelyn, Jackie, Kadijah, and Sakeena, and sons Art Jr., Takashi, Kenji, Gamal, and Akira (ibid.). Sandy Warren, another longtime companion of Blakey, has published a book of reminiscences and favorite food recipes from the period of the late 1970s to early 1980s when Blakey lived in Northfield, NJ with Warren and son Takashi.[16][17][18]

Blakey traveled for a year in West Africa (1948) to explore the culture and religion of Islam he would adopt alongside changing his name (see above); Art's conversion to "Bu" took place in the late 1940s at a time when other African-Americans were being influenced by the Ahmadi missionary Kahili Ahmed Nasir, according to the Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History, and at one time in that period, Blakey led a turbaned, Qur'an-reading jazz band called the 17 Messengers (perhaps all Muslim, reflecting notions of the Prophet's and music's roles as conduits of the divine message).[8] A friend recollects that when "Art took up the religion… he did so on his own terms.", saying that "Muslim imams would come over to his place, and they would pray and talk, then a few hours later [we] would go... to a restaurant… [and] have a drink and order some ribs", and suggests that reasons for the name-change included the pragmatic: that "like many other black jazz musicians who adopted Muslim names", musicians did so to allow them to "check into hotels and enter 'white only places' under the assumption they were not African-American".[15] Blakey reportedly stopped public practice of Islam in the 1950s (though retaining his name and continuing private Qur'anic prayer), perhaps because of the pressures of touring and performing, perhaps in response to experiencing racism within the adoptive religion he believed free from this perceived Christian practice.[8]

As John Cohassey reports based on interviews, Blakely was a "jazz musician who lived most of his life on the road, [and] lived by the rules of the road."[15] This lifestyle resulted in run-ins related to but predating the civil rights era (including a 1939 Fletcher Henderson band episode in Albany, Georgia, where an altercation and Blakey's treatment after arrest led to surgery inserting a plate in his head, ibid.). Drummer Keith Hollis, reflecting on Blakey's early life, states his perception that his fellow drummer "wound up doing drugs to cope";[16] like many of the era, Blakely and his bands were known for their drug use around travel and performing (with varying accounts of Blakey's influence on others in this regard).[15][19] Other specific recollections have Blakely forswearing serious drink while playing (after being disciplined by drummer Sid Catlett early in his career, for drinking while performing), and suggest that the influence of "clean-living cat" Wynton Marsalis led to a period where drugs were a less serious matter during performances.[15] Blakey was also a heavy smoker; he appears in a cloud of smoke on the “Buhaina's Delight” (1961) album cover,[20] and, similarly, in extended footage of a 1973 appearance with Ginger Baker, Blakely begins a long drummers "duel" with cigarette present and alight.[21][22]

Blakey had been living in Manhattan (New York City), when he died of lung cancer at age 71, at St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center.[5] Blakey's New York Times obituary notes that he was survived by four daughters (Gwendolyn and Evelyn Blakey of New York, Jackie Blakey of Florida, and Sakeena Buhaina of California), and by four sons (Takashi and Kenji Buhaina of New York, Gamal Buhaina of Vermont, and Akira Buhaina of Quebec, Canada).[5]

Jazz Messengers alumni[edit]


Wynton Kelly, Joanne Brackeen, Donald Brown, Walter Davis, Jr., Sam Dockery, Kenny Drew, Benny Green, John Hicks, Keith Jarrett, Geoffrey Keezer, Mulgrew Miller, Jaki Byard, Johnny O'Neal, Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons, Cedar Walton, James Williams


Dale Barlow, Gary Bartz, Kenny Garrett, Lou Donaldson, John Gilmore, Benny Golson, Johnny Griffin, Billy Harper, Donald Harrison, Javon Jackson, Carter Jefferson, Nathan Davis, Branford Marsalis, Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, Bill Pierce, David Schnitter, Wayne Shorter, James Taylor, Ira Sullivan, Jean Toussaint, Bobby Watson, Carlos Garnett


Terence Blanchard, Clifford Brown, Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham, Bill Hardman, Philip Harper, Freddie Hubbard, Brian Lynch, Chuck Mangione, Wynton Marsalis, Lee Morgan, Wallace Roney, Woody Shaw, Valery Ponomarev, Charles Tolliver


Steve Davis, Robin Eubanks, Curtis Fuller, Frank Lacy, Tim Williams, Steve Turre, Julian Priester, Slide Hampton, Gregory Charles Royal


Mickey Bass, Spanky DeBrest, Charles Fambrough, Dennis Irwin, Jymie Merritt, Curly Russell, Clarence Seay, Victor Sproles, Doug Watkins, Wilbur Ware, Reggie Workman, Riccardo Del Fra, Stanley Clarke, Essiet Essiet, Peter Washington, Lawrence Evans, Lonnie Plaxico


Bobby Broom, Kevin Eubanks


Ralph Peterson, Jr.




  1. ^ a b c d allmusic Biography
  2. ^ a b website [Internet], 2014, "Arthur Blakey". Available at: Accessed Apr 22, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d website [Internet], 2014, "Art Blakey". Available at: Accessed Apr 22, 2014.
  4. ^ website [Internet], 2014, "Arthur Blakey". Available at: Accessed Apr 22, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d Watrous, Peter (October 17, 1990). "Art Blakey, Jazz Great, Is Dead; A Drummer and Band Leader, 71". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ a b c Grove Music Online: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd Edition (2001)
  7. ^ "Monk's Music". June 26, 1957. Retrieved 2011-10-06. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Brandi Denison, 2010, "Blakey, Art (Ibn Buhaina Abdullah)", in Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History (Edward E. Curtis, Ed.), pp. 85f (New York: Infobase Publishing). ISBN, 1438130406. Available at: Accessed Apr 23, 2014.
  9. ^ Rosenthal, David, H. Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music 1955–1965. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505869-0. 
  10. ^ See, for instance: "Art Blakey solo", available at: Accessed Apr 23, 2014.
  11. ^ From The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, via the PBS web resources for the Burns' documentary: website [Internet], 2014, "Art Blakey". Available at: Accessed 22 Apr 2014.
  12. ^ Wynn, Ron (1994), Ron Wynn, ed., All Music Guide to Jazz, M. Erlewine, V. Bogdanov, San Francisco: Miller Freeman, p. 90, ISBN 0-87930-308-5 
  13. ^ "Art Blakey, Jazz Great, Is Dead; A Drummer and Band Leader, 71". New York Times article by Peter Watrous. October 17, 1990. Retrieved April 25, 2010. 
  14. ^ "Miles Davis III Discography". Miles Davis' biography by Scott Yanow of Allmusic. 
  15. ^ a b c d e John Cohassey [Internet], 2014, "My Friend Art Blakey: Recollections of a Jazz Fan from Detroit, by Jerry "Tiger" Pearson, as told to John Cohassey" (Supporting material for America's Cultural Rebels: Avant-Garde and Bohemian Artists, Writers and Musicians from the 1850s through the 1960s by Roy Kotynek and John Cohassey (Jefferson, NC:McFarland & Company), ISBN 978-0-7864-3709-2. Available at: Accessed Apr 22, 2014.
  16. ^ a b Regina Schaffer, 2014, "Art Blakey will be remembered by Keith Hollis band, Jazz Vespers in Atlantic City Sunday", Atlantic City Insiders, January 14, 2014. Available at: Accessed Apr 22, 2014.
  17. ^ Jeff Schwachter, 2010, "Art Blakey Topic of New Book by Atlantic City Author", Atlantic City Insiders, November 17, 2010. Available at: Accessed Apr 22, 2014.
  18. ^ Jeff Schwachter, 2005, "Remembering the Messenger: Jazz legend Art Blakey and his small town Atlantic County digs", Atlantic City Insiders, October 27, 2005. Available at: Accessed Apr 22, 2014.
  19. ^ John Moultrie, 2013, "Gary Bartz Talks About Drug Use Among Jazz Greats", 2013 Jazz Festival (iRock Jazz Team, Available at: Accessed Apr 22, 2014.
  20. ^ LondonJazzCollector [Internet], 2011, "Art Blakey "Buhaina's Delight" (1961)", Available at: Accessed Apr 22, 2014.
  21. ^ See: "Art Blakey & Ginger Baker Drum Duo", available at: Accessed Apr 23, 2014.
  22. ^ Internet Movie Database (imdb) [Internet], 2014, "Beware of Mr. Baker (2012)", Available at: See also: Accessed Apr 23, 2014.

External links[edit]