Facts about Art Blakey

Art Blakey died at 71 years old
Best known as: Drummer and leader of the Jazz Messengers

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Art Blakey Biography

Name at birth: Arthur William Blakey

Art Blakey co-founded the Jazz Messengers in the mid-1950s and led the band the rest of his life, recording, touring and introducing solos with his explosive “press roll” style — all the while mentoring dozens of players toward their own careers.

After starting as a teen pianist in Pittsburgh clubs, Art Blakey soon switched to the drum set and had his first New York City gig in 1942.

He played in the Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstein big bands alongside the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, freelanced with Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and others, and experimented with a short-lived Seventeen Messengers band.

A quintet he co-led with pianist Horace Silver recorded the popular album A Night at Birdland (1954) and they permanently named the group the Jazz Messengers. (Silver left shortly after that.)

From At the Café Bohemia (1955) to One for All (1990), Art Blakey hired at least 200 musicians for Messengers recordings and tours. Among them were such varied notables as Cedar Walton, Wayne Shorter, Woody Shaw, Chuck Mangione, Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Keith Jarrett, Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown and JoAnne Brackeen.

Extra credit

On a 1948 Africa trip, Art Blakey converted to Islam and took the name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. According to biographer Leslie Course, he had ceased to practice Islam by 1956, but friends and bandmates still called him Buhaina or “Bu”… Art Blakey fathered five daughters and five sons with five women from 1938 to 1986. Four of these women he married, though one union was technically null because it occurred before an earlier marriage had ended.


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