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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Blakey and Monk

Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk
Atlantic 1278
Original Black Label Deep Groove

I was recently talking to a friend about how one of the wonderful things about jazz was that the great talents "jammed" with one another...because most albums are made up of performances semi-improvised over the course of afternoon or evening jam sessions and because record company contracts/control over artists had yet to become as restrictive/prohibitive as it would artists were freer to participate in so called "blowin' session"...and I'm betting they needed the cash...I also told my friend of the existence of an album featuring both Monk and Blakey at their prime...

On this record my original thoughts were that Monk was pretty much the show as he always is...first of all they are his "standards" (i.e., "evidence", "in walked bud", "blue monk", "i mean you", "rhythm-a-ning") and his piano is so original and inimitable that it seems to take everything is interesting of course to have Blakey and Monk on the same record as Monk's piano playing style is quite percussive.. He seems to bang out the notes..

Johnny Griffin on the tenor saxophone is no slouch here either and in fact part of me almost feels like he too ought to be recognized in the album title....

I was recently reading in the all music guide how Blakey was often undervalued in the 50s and 60s while the hype and critical favor descended on Miles, Coltrane and say the even more experimental free jazz of Ornette Coleman BUT how in the 80s there emerged a renewed belief that the type of jazz Blakey and his messengers had been spreading (call it post bop or hard bop) was the real mcoy.

What are the characteristics that distinguish Art Blakey in my mind. First of all Blakey seems to pound the time rather than mark it. There is a "Blakey style"..there it is.. its right in the first song of Side 2 ("I Mean You")- its the CLAT-CLAT-CLAT drumming where he seems to be hitting the side part of the drum with his drumstick..sometimes i get the impression he's hitting the two drumsticks together...... he always keeps the time while seemingly interjecting all these breaks.... are these "snare and cymbal strokes"?

Blakey is of course much more than the style.. he also presided over a band that became an incubator for talent.. i mean how many people got their chops together playing with Blakey? not just as jazz players but as, perhaps more importantly, composers.. Wayne Shorter immediately comes to mind, and Lee Morgan, and Hank Mobley and on and on... heck all the way to Branford and Wynton is as if he ran an internship program where the interns were allowed, on the surface of it, to take charge..or maybe its an asylum where the inmates take charge?.. of course Blakey always put his stamp on the proceedings...

When I think of Blakey I also think of longevity... i believe he played until the late 1980s...i'm guessing he was not one of the cats battling it out with heroin...

I also think of one of his signature tunes: "Moanin".. i think of blues and soul in jazz.. i think of melody...the liner notes point out that the group he introduced in 1954 proclaimed the funky style... However, I must confess, listening to this record, that I do not think of Monk as adding the funkiness of say a Bobby Timmons on "Moanin'" but I digress..

The description by Martin Williams in the liner notes of Blakey on "I Mean You" reall serves to tell the story:

"Clearly he not only accompanies but directly leads the trumpet into ideas and motifs. It is a dangerous role for a drummer, demanding constant discretion and sympathy with the soloist. The second change is illustrated in some of Blakey's solos: probably more directly than any other drummer, Blakey saw the possibility of sustaining polyrhythmic linjes and he can keep serveral rhythms going with an unusual kind of continuity. But the most important point for me is the one we can hear illustrated by what he does on the opening chorus of I Mean Youl He carries the accompanying 4/4 pulse, but, at the same time, he improvises a parallel percussive line which interplays with both the melody and the fundamental time: the jazz drummer becomes an improvising percussionist on a plane almost equal to that of the horns."

So i may have said earlier that Atlantic 1278 is dominated by Monk but perhaps it ain't necessarily so!

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