September 9, 2015

Art Blakely in England 1961

art blakey

By Armand Lewis

Jazz has a rich history of mentoring — notably King Oliver’s mentoring of a young Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker’s mentoring of a teenaged Miles Davis. Davis himself subsequently mentored a number of jazz greats — from John Coltrane to Wallace Roney. But nobody in music has mentored more major figures than drummer Art Blakey.

The list of jazz greats who got their start with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers is truly astonishing. Blakey gave first opportunities to everyone from Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson and Hank Mobley forward to Cedar Walton, Freddie Hubbard, Gary Bartz, and in the 1980s youngsters such as Wynton Marsalis and his brother Branford.

Arguably the best Jazz Messengers band was from the period of Spring 1960 through Spring 1961

Originally a pianist, the Pittsburgh native taught himself to play drums and by his early twenties was drumming in pianist Mary Lou Williams’ trio. He then toured with Fletcher Henderson and most importantly, the Billy Eckstine Band, where he would meet other like-minded musicians who would soon create modern jazz.

In the late 1940s, Blakey would start his own band. The “Seventeen Messengers” was a rehearsal band, but by the early 1950s, Blakey and his then-partner Horace Silver would reduce the group to a quintet: the immortal “Jazz Messengers.”

Many of the Messengers’ various incarnations and offshoot groups would be extensively recorded, though some would not. Arguably the best Jazz Messengers band was from the period of Spring 1960 through Spring 1961 and featured Lee Morgan on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Bobby Timmons on piano and Jimmy Merritt on bass.

BlakeyThe Jazz Messenger LPs recorded in quick succession in that one year span include such classics as The Big Beat, Night in Tunisia, The Freedom Rider, Like Someone in Love as well as a set recorded in concert in Paris (L’Olympia Concert). Now a tape from the same European tour that produced the Paris concert has come to light, this time from a concert in Manchester England on May 6th, 1961.
Recorded just days before the group moved on to Paris, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers at the Free Trade Hall 1961 (Solar 5014661) features a set list containing tunes that would all be released on the various Blue Note LPs that the group was recoding at the time.
“It’s Only a Paper Moon” may be an odd choice for such a hard-driving group, but it was an audience favorite when the band’s musical director Lee Morgan seemingly pulled it out of his hat one night on the bandstand when they were stuck for something the audience hadn’t heard them do before.

“Dat Dere,” composed by pianist Bobby Timmons, remains one of Blakey’s signature tunes from the period. Soon to be immortalized with lyrics by Oscar Brown Jr., Blakey and the Messengers’ rendition remains the definitive instrumental version of this jazz standard.
Dizzy Gillespie’s classic “A Night in Tunisia” had recently been released on Blakey’s Blue Note album of the same name. Practically written for the Jazz Messengers’ style of swinging, hard driving be-bop, and with plenty of room for Blakey’s trademark thunderous drum solos, this is another tune that Blakey would turn into a signature piece.

The Burke & Van Heusen standard “Like Someone in Love” would soon be recorded by the Messengers for the Blue Note album of the same name, though the LP itself would not be released for another five years.

Many changes would occur before the Like Someone in Love LP would be released in 1966. Within several months of returning to America in the spring of 1961, trumpeter Lee Morgan and pianist Bobby Timmons would move on —replaced by Freddie Hubbard and Cedar Walton respectively. This edition of the Jazz Messengers would also last just several years before Art Blakey would make other changes – mentoring another generation of jazz greats.

Armand Lewis buys and sells rare Jazz LPs. He can be reached at

One Comment

  1. robert biffa

    I saw them on that tour 1961 Thelonious Monk as well. Somewhere like Festival hall – I was 15 and my membership to Ronnie Scott’s said under 18 ( for licence laws) – but when I got the card signed it paid it they gave me a Vodka and tonic.!

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