Remembering Art Blakey -- The life and career of the late jazz drummer

Remembering Art Blakey

Dizzy Gillespie nicknamed him ”Thunder.” For more than 40 years, Art Blakey, the volcanic jazz drummer who died on Oct. 16 at age 71, led his Jazz Messengers, recording more than 60 albums and helping to define the seminal jazz school called hard bop. As a talent spotter, he had no peers. The graduates from his informal jazz academy make up a contemporary jazz ”Who’s Who,” including, among trumpeters alone, Freddie Hubbard, Chuck Mangione, and Wynton Marsalis.

Blakey himself learned the hard way. Growing up in Pittsburgh during the Depression, he was working in a steel mill by day and playing music at night by the time he was 15. He never studied drums formally; instead, he invented his own technique, based on a relentless, driving beat. But he could also be subtle, as in his near-telepathic interplay with pianist-composer Thelonious Monk, a towering iconoclast of modern jazz who called Blakey his favorite drummer.

”Jazz is truth” was Blakey’s favorite saying. ”It washes away the dust of everyday life. No other force brings cultures and peoples together like jazz music does. But who needs words — they’ll get the message!” Art Blakey, and the guys who learned from him, sent it loud and clear.