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ART BLAKEY AND THE DEFINITION OF A STYLE

The history of jazz is replete with forms and styles of performance that carry various names that help to identify the eras in which they were prevalent as well as the nature of their stylistic formula.

The early form of the music is sometimes known as “Dixieland” in reference to its origin in the Southern United States, and sometimes as “ragtime” to refer to the repetitive improvisation known in the early teens and twenties of the 29th century as “ragging”. As the music became more orchestrally complex and multi-faceted and big bands became the most popular form of performing ensembles, especially in the 1930s, the development of a very infectious type of dancing beat by the best bands became known as “swing music”,

This was because the beat inspired the male dancers to swing their female partners in ever imaginative ways around the ballroom floors. This era was succeeded by a period from the early 40s to the mid-50s in which smaller and more tightly organised but no less complex musical ensembles became the mode and in which intellectual experimentation grew equally important as an element of the music’s form.

Art Blakey.

This was the universally lionized “be-bop” movement led by heroic innovators like Charlie “Bird” Parker on saxophone and John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie on trumpet. The “be-bop” era provoked an uprising of “avant garde” responses that later came to be known as the “free jazz” movement, which has remained alive and relevant as a source of musical growth throughout several decades.

However, our focus here is on an offshoot of the “be-bop” era that became a source of much popular musical performance in the fifties and sixties and was known as the “hard bop” movement,

“Hard bop” was characterised by a plethora of energetic and highly rhythmic phrasing and extravagant and largely blues-based chord changes with a consistently danceable beat. Even when the focal point of the music was its listenability it was performed with a sense of movement and danceable quality in its formal shape.

One of the masters of this form was Art Blakey one of the few great jazz drummers who led their own bands for most of their careers. The seminal performances on the album Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers (Blue Note 7243 4 95324 2 7) provide some of the most definitive examples of that style of music ever recorded and was for a long period considered as the standard against which saleable jazz performances were measured and judged.

The key tune here is MOANIN’, which became a standard in the late 50s and early 60s and remains one of the most broadcast and covered jazz compositions ever written. In the first of two performances of the famous tune presented here the solo by trumpeter Lee Morgan, then just out of his teens and the definitive saxophone solo by one of the most underrated geniuses of the tenor saxophone Benny Golson will still move the listener especially as Blakey’s thunderous and African tinged drumming inspires their effusive improvisation.

This collection is particularly attractive for anyone seeking to understand, and enjoy, the “hard bop” genre because apart from being one of Art Blakey’s earliest and pioneering performances with his own band the original Jazz Messengers it includes two other major standards of the period that were often played by other performers,

These are THE DRUM THUNDER SUITE and BLUES MARCH two pieces that deploy the drums as leading instruments in the overall arrangement of the performances as produced here, Art Blakey was one of jazz’s most successful bandleaders at the height of his career and also one of the most perceptive judges of talent who nurtured acolytes who grew into extraordinary stars.

Interestingly he was also one of the mentors of the Nigerian bata drummer Michael Olatunji when that worthy introduced traditional percussion to the jazz scene in New York in the early sixties.

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