Art Blakey - drums; Walter Davis - piano; Yoshio Chin Suzuki - bass; Bill Hardman - trumpet; David Schnitter - tenor sax, vocals
Formed by drummer Art Blakey in 1954, the Jazz Messengers remained a hard bop institution and important training ground for young musicians up until the leader's death in 1990. A dynamic presence and charismatic personality who led his hard-swinging ensembles from behind the drum set, Blakey was a widely respected and hugely influential figure in jazz for nearly 50 years. A super talent scout as a well as an exciting player on the bandstand, he recruited scores of emerging talents into the ranks of The Jazz Messengers over the years, including trumpeters Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Chuck Mangione, Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Wallace Roney and Brian Lynch; saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Johnny Griffin, Benny Golson, Bobby Billy Harper, Watson, Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison and Javon Jackson; pianists Bobby Timmons, Cedar Walton, Chick Corea, John Hicks, JoAnne Brackeen, George Cables, James Williams, Donald Brown, Mulgrew Miller, Benny Green and Geoff Keezer, to name just a few. The Messengers introduced such jazz anthems as Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'" and "Dat Dere," Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty" and "Blues March" and Wayne Shorter's "Lester Left Town."
The lineup for this July 5, 1975 concert included tenor saxophonist David Schnitter, veteran trumpeter Bill Hardman (a member of the Jazz Messengers in the mid '50s), and pianist Walter Davis, Jr. (Messengers alumni and bassist Yoshio Chin Suzuki. The leader kicks off the set in swaggering fashion with a thunderous drum solo before the band falls in line behind him on Freddie Hubbard's blazing hard bop staple, "Birdlike," a tune from Hubbard's 1961 Blue Note album Ready for Freddie. Schnitter reveals a decided Dexter Gordon-Sonny Stitt influence in his powerhouse solo on this burner and Hardman responds with some heat of his own on trumpet. Davis' strong piano solo here is brimming with ideas and imbued with his facile bop lines. The whole band lowers the dynamic to let bassist Suzuki stretch out, then Blakey follows with a show-stopping solo before engaging in rapid-fire exchanges of eights with Schnitter and Hardman, bringing this fiery affair to an exhilarating close.
Next up is the beguiling Benny Golson number "Along Came Betty," which first appeared on the 1954 Jazz Messengers album, Jazz Profile. Hardman's extended trumpet solo here is bristling with energy and ideas while Schnitter takes a more relaxed approach, dipping deeply into his Dexter bag. Blakey flexes his muscles on a dramatic drum solo that opens the uptempo "Third World Express," which featured a bit of Latin-tinged piano by Davis at the tag. For a change of pace from the hard bop program they tackle the Ray Charles anthem "Georgia on my Mind" with requisite soul. Schnitter takes over the lead here on vocals, delving into some African flavored scatting and audacious, Leon Thomas-inspired yodeling. And they close out their Newport Jazz Festival set with the rousing Blakey drum feature, "Ronnie's a Dynamite Lady," a Walter Davis, Jr. composition which showcases the leader's polyrhythmic fire and unparalleled drive on the kit.
A perennial favorite at George Wein's Newport Jazz Festival, the Pittsburgh-born Blakey was a self-taught pianist who led a big band at age 15 and who later switched to drums after being displaced on piano in his own band by fellow Pittsburgher Erroll Garner. Born on October 11, 1919, his biggest drumming influences as a teenager were Chick Webb and Big Sid Catlett, both of whom would become important mentors for Blakey in the early stages of his career. In 1942, Art traveled to New York as a member of pianist Mary Lou Williams' band to play at Kelly's Stables on fabled 52nd Street. The following year he toured with Fletcher Henderson's big band; and in 1944 joined Billy Eckstine's bebop big band which included young lions of the bebop movement such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Leo Parker, and featured vocalist Sarah Vaughan. At the height of the bebop era, Blakey's aggressive style on the kit, including his trademark 'dropping bombs' on the bass drum, underscored countless recordings for the Blue Note, Savoy and Prestige labels with the likes of Clifford Brown, Tadd Dameron, Fats Navarro, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell and Horace Silver.
In 1949, following a trip to West Africa, Blakey converted to Islam and took the Muslim name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. That same year he began a two-year stint as house drummer at the famous jazz club, Birdland. By 1954, Blakey and pianist Horace Silver formed the first edition of the Jazz Messengers, which included trumpeter Kenny Dorham, saxophonist Hank Mobley and bassist Doug Watkins. When the other four members left the band in 1956, Blakey carried on the band name for the next four decades, providing an important training ground for more than 200 sidemen who passed through the ranks of the Jazz Messengers over the years. A relentless road warrior, he toured extensively through the '70s and '80s. His final recording under the Jazz Messengers banner was 1990's One For All. Blakey died later that year, on October 16, 1990, just five days after his 71st birthday. (Milkowski)
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