Honoring Art Blakey's multi-faceted jazz legacy


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Drummer Art Blakey had a profound impact on jazz that has stretched from the 1940s, through bebop's 1950s and '60s heyday, right up to the present. The music associated with his Jazz Messengers band and his legacy as a bandleader were celebrated by the Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto quintet on Sunday, November 11, in Naples FL.

And what a grand legacy it is. Blakey, who passed away in 1990, was without a doubt the finest molder of other future bandleaders who passed through his band. And there were scores of them. Benny Golson, Horace Silver, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Johnny Griffin, Chuck Mangione, James Williams, Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, Wayne Shorter, and on and on and on.

As Williams once told me, being a Jazz Messenger was on-the-job training for the skills needed to lead a band. “He really did give us a sense of responsibility. It wasn’t just Art Blakey's band. He in essence made all of us leaders of the group at various times. He might tell Billy Pierce to decide what tunes to play that night. He’d tell me to announce the program. He’d tell Wynton to go to the club owner, collect the money and pay the guys. He’d tell Bobby Watson to call rehearsal, when we had a rare rehearsal. These wouldn’t be permanent assignments. It would vary, so each one of us would have to do certain things that Art knew would be very important for us to survive in this very fickle business.”

In an afternoon concert at Naples United Methodist Church, trumpeter Miller and tenor saxophonist Del Gatto joined forces with bassist Richard Drexler, drummer Marty Morell and pianist Brandon Goldberg, a 12-year-old from the Miami area whose musical savvy will make your jaw drop.They performed seven classics from the Jazz Messengers repertoire: Golson's “Blues March" and “Are You Real," Kenny Dorham's “Prince Albert," Bobby Timmons' “Moanin'," Gigi Gryce's “Minority," Silver's “Nica's Dream" and Shorter's “Lester Left Town."

Goldberg was spotlighted on “Moanin'"- which he updated with a healthy dose of off-kilter melodic touches- and on a piano trio version of another Shorter tune, “One by One." The way he has absorbed the jazz canon- and puts his own skillful tamp on it through solos and comping- is a blessing for the genre. At one point, Miller ended one of his solos with a few melodic twists that involved some nifty three-note phrases, and there was Goldberg, tossing them right back to him with logic and ease.

Miller shared a bit of Blakey's legacy with the audience, explaining that the Pittsburgh native, actually started out as a pianist. As the trumpeter tells it, Blakey was married and had a child by the time he was 14. He was working double shifts in a coal mine and a steel mill, and still found time to play piano at night in a mob-run speakeasy. One night, the trio scheduled to follow him didn't have a drummer. The club owner told Blakey- at gunpoint- that he was playing drums that night, even though he had never done so before. His skill developed quickly, and by the early 1940s he was working in New York. “Art had an infectious feel to his playing," Miller said. “The power, the swing and the energy were there. You could feel the drums in your bones. That's why we salute him and his music."

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This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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