Blakey, Art [Buhaina, Abdullah ibn] (Pittsburgh, 11 Oct 1919 - New York, 16 Oct 1990)

Drummer and bandleader



He received some piano lessons at school and by seventh grade was playing music full-time, leading a commercial band. Shortly afterwards he changed to drums, on which he taught himself to play in the aggressive swing style of Chick Webb, Sid Catlett, and Ray Bauduc. In autumn 1942 he joined Mary Lou Williams for an engagement at Kelly's Stable in New York. He then played with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra (1943-4), with which he made a long tour of the South. On leaving Henderson, Blakey briefly led a big band in Boston before joining Billy Eckstine's new band in St. Louis. During his years with Eckstine (1944-7) Blakey became associated with the modern-jazz movement along with his fellow band members Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Fats Navarro, and others.


When Eckstine disbanded his group in 1947 Blakey organized the Seventeen Messengers, a rehearsal band, and recorded with an octet called the Jazz Messengers, the first of his many groups bearing this name. He then traveled in Africa, probably for more than a year, to learn about Islamic culture. In the early 1950s he performed and broadcast with such musicians as Charlie Parker, Davis, and Clifford Brown, and particularly with Horace Silver, his kindred musical spirit of this time. After recording together several times, in 1955 Blakey and Silver formed a cooperative group with Hank Mobley and Kenny Dorham, retaining the name Jazz Messengers. When Silver left the following year the leadership of this important band passed to Blakey, and he has been associated with it from then into the late 1980s. It was the archetypal hard-bop group of the late 1950s, playing a driving, aggressive extension of bop with pronounced blues roots. Over the years the Jazz Messengers have served as a springboard for young jazz musicians such as Donald Byrd, Johnny Griffin, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, Chuck Mangione, Woody Shaw, JoAnne Brackeen, and Wynton Marsalis. In addition to his numerous tours and recordings with the Messengers, Blakey also made a world tour in 1971-2 with the Giants of Jazz (with Dizzy Gillespie, Kai Winding, Sonny Stitt, Thelonious Monk, and Al McKibbon) and frequently appeared as a soloist at the Newport Jazz Festival in New York, most memorably in a drum battle with Max Roach, Buddy Rich, and Elvin Jones (1974). He continued to maintain a busy performing schedule into the 1980s. Among his sidemen from 1982 were Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison, and in 1987 he was leading a septet of young musicians that included the trombonist Delfayo Marsalis and the pianist Benny Green.


Blakey is a major figure in modern jazz and an important stylist on his instrument. 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. 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. His contribution to jazz as a discoverer and molder of young talent over three decades is no less significant than his very considerable innovations on his instrument.

Selected Recordings


 As leader: Message from Kenya/Nothing but Soul (1953, Blue Note 1626); A Night at Birdland (1954, Blue Note 5037-9); Drum Suite (1956-7, Columbia CL1002); A Message from Blakey: Holiday for Skins (1958, Blue Note 4004); Des femmes disparaissent (1958, Fontana 660224); The Freedom Rider (1961, Blue Note 84156); Buttercorn Lady (1966, Limelight 86034); Jazz Messengers '70 (1970, Catalyst 7902); Anthenagin (1973, Prestige 10076); Recorded Live at Bubba's (1980, Who's Who in Jazz 21019); Album of the Year (1981, Timeless 155)

 As sideman: B. Eckstine: Blowin' the Blues Away (1944, De Luxe 2001); Together! (1945, Spotlite 100), including Mister Chips; I love the rhythm in a riff (1945, National 9014); T. Monk: Who Knows (1947, Blue Note 1565); M. Davis: Weirdo (1954, Blue Note 45-1650); H. Silver: Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers (1954, Blue Note 5058), including Doodlin'



 H. Frost: "Art Blakey in St. Louis," Metronome, lxiii/2 (1947), 26

 H. Lovett: "Art Blakey," Metronome, lxxii/6 (1956), 17

 J. Tynan: "The Jazz Message," Down Beat, xxiv/21 (1957), 15

 R. Horricks and others: These Jazzmen of our Time (London, 1959), 131

 Z. Carno: "Art Blakey," The Jazz Review, iii/1 (1960), 6

 J. Cooke: "Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers," Jazz Monthly, vi (1960), no.3, p.4; no.8, p.4

 J. Goldberg: Jazz Masters of the Fifties (New York and London, 1965/R1980), 45

 T. Humphrey: "The Art of Blakey Considered," Jazz Beat, iii/7 (1966), 7

 J. Litweiler: "Bu's Delights and Laments," Down Beat, xliii/6 (1976), 15

 A. Taylor: Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews (Liège, Belgium, 1977/R1982), 251

 M. Hennessey: "The Enduring Jazz Message of Abdullah ibn Buhaina," Jazz Journal International, xxx/9 (1977), 6

 I. Gitler: "Art Blakey Speaks his Mind," Jazz Magazine, iv/1 (1979), 40

 H. Nolan: "New Message from Art Blakey," Down Beat, xlvi/17 (1979), 19

 "Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers," Swing Journal, xxxiii/2 (1979), 224 [discography]

 P. Danson: "Art Blakey," Coda, no.173 (1980), 14

 G. Endress: Jazz Podium: Musiker über sich selbst (Stuttgart, Germany, 1980)

 F. Paudras: "Art Blakey: le message," Jazz hot, Jazz-hot, nos. 374-5 (1980), 16

 B. Rusch: "Art Blakey: Interview," Cadence, vii (1981), no.7, p.8; no.9, p.12

 C. Stern: "Art Blakey," Modern Drummer, viii/9 (1984), 8

 Z. Stewart: "Art Blakey in his Prime," Down Beat, lii/7 (1985), 20

 D. H. Rosenthal: "Conversation with Art Blakey: the Big Beat!," Black Perspective in Music, xiv (1986), 267

 Lewis Porter

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, © Macmillan Reference Ltd 1988




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1.         Jazz Messengers

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The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

adjacent entries

Blake, Jerry [Chabania, Jacinto] (Gary, IN, 23 Jan 1908 - 1961)

Blake, Ran (Springfield, MA, 20 April 1935)

Blakeney, Andy [Andrew] (Quitman, MS, 10 June 1898 - Baldwin Park, CA, 12 Feb 1992)

Blakey, Art [Buhaina, Abdullah ibn] (Pittsburgh, 11 Oct 1919 - New York, 16 Oct 1990)

Blanchard, Terence (New Orleans, 13 March 1962)

Bland, Jack (Sedalia, MO, 8 May 1899)

Blanton, Jimmy [James] (Chattanooga, TN, Oct 1918 - Los Angeles, 30 July 1942)


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