Art Blakey - drums, leader; Cedar Walton - piano; Eddie Henderson - trumpet; Carter Jefferson - tenor sax, soprano sax; Curtis Fuller - trombone; Mickey Bass - bass; Ray Mantilla - conga, timbales; Special guests:; Sonny Stitt - tenor sax, alto sax; Roy Haynes - drums
This Central Park performance opens with bandleader Blakey intoning, in his distinctively gruff voice, the presentation of a special plaque to his friend and colleague, Gene Krupa, a champion of the drums from his days with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in the 1930s. Following that brief ceremony, which includes an eloquent acceptance speech from Krupa, the 1973 edition of the Jazz Messengers launches into Cedar Walton's aggressive "Plexus," a 1961 composition originally written for Freddie Hubbard's 1961 Blue Note album, Hub Cap. In the solo order Carter Jefferson goes first, unleashing a potent tenor solo over the percolating groove provided by Ray Mantilla's conga, Mickey Bass' insistently walking bass lines and Blakey's irrepressible presence behind the kit, dropping 'bombs' on the bass drum while cutting up the beat on the snare in unpredictable ways as he keeps the ride cymbal pulse steady and swinging. Eddie Henderson follows with a bravura high-note trumpet solo that is coming directly out of Freddie Hubbard school of audacious virtuosity. Veteran Messenger Fuller follows with a mellower but no less swinging trombone solo. Stitt enters the fray with a brief tenor statement before pianist-composer Walton completes the succession of solos on this blazing opener.
Curtis Fuller's "Alamode" pits Carter Jefferson against Sonny Stitt in an exhilarating bit of one-upsmanship. As Blakey's uncanny forward momentum and powerful accents on the kit propel this Messengers staple, Jefferson solos first with robust tones and wild abandon. Stitt follows on alto with Bird-like facility and an urge to burn. Henderson turns in another pyrotechnic trumpet solo that nearly bursts with intensity in the high range and Walton negotiates the changes with hard bop fervor on his impeccably swinging piano solo. Blakey and the Messengers close out their Wollman Ampitheater set with drumming legend Roy Haynes, who played with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, joining the crew for a raucous run through Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia." Blakey opens the piece with an African-flavored barrage that has him depressing the drum heads with an elbow to get a talking drum effect while Haynes keeps time underneath with a steady volley on the floor tom. They switch roles and Haynes unleashes some melodic statements on his kit while Blakey keeps a steady pulse on the hi-hat and ride cymbal. Mantilla and Walton enter the percussive brawl and Henderson signals the familiar theme with his peerless trumpet work. At the famous break, which Charlie Parker trademarked with his shock-and-awe virtuosity on a 1946 Dial recording of the piece, Stitt blows Bird-like alto in that pyrotechnic tradition. Henderson follows with some inspired trumpet work and Jefferson wails on soprano sax to keep the kinetic momentum flowing. Percussionist Mantilla steps out with an exciting timbales solo that further ignites the bandstand. And the two bop contemporaries, Blakey and Haynes, engage in some heated exchanges of their own at the tag.
A perennial favorite at George Wein's Newport Jazz Festival, the Pittsburgh-born Blakey was a self-taught pianist who led a big band at age 15 and who later switched to drums after being displaced on piano in his own band by fellow Pittsburgher Erroll Garner. Born on October 11, 1919, his biggest drumming influences as a teenager were Chick Webb and Big Sid Catlett, both of whom would become important mentors for Blakey in the early stages of his career. In 1942, Art traveled to New York as a member of pianist Mary Lou Williams' band to play at Kelly's Stables on fabled 52nd Street. The following year he toured with Fletcher Henderson's big band and in 1944 joined Billy Eckstine's bebop big band, which included such young lions of the bebop movement as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Leo Parker and also featured vocalist Sarah Vaughan. At the height of the bebop era, Blakey's aggressive style on the kit, including his trademark 'dropping bombs' on the bass drum, underscored countless recordings for the Blue Note, Savoy and Prestige labels with the likes of Clifford Brown, Tadd Dameron, Fats Navarro, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell and Horace Silver.
In 1949, following a trip to West Africa, Blakey converted to Islam and took the Muslim name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. That same year he began a two-year stint as house drummer at the famous jazz club, Birdland. By 1954, Blakey and pianist Horace Silver formed the first edition of the Jazz Messengers, which included trumpeter Kenny Dorham, saxophonist Hank Mobley and bassist Doug Watkins. When the other four members left the band in 1956, Blakey carried on the band name for the next four decades, providing an important training ground for more than 200 sidemen who passed through the ranks of the Jazz Messengers over the years. A relentless road warrior, he toured extensively through the '70s and '80s. His final recording under the Jazz Messengers banner was 1990's One For All. Blakey died later that year, on October 16, 1990, just five days after his 71st birthday.
-Written by Bill Milkowski