the world of jazz, the piano is considered the fundamental instrument for
innovation and improvisation. However, another instrument that that is of equal
importance is the drum. In this week’s feature we will take a look at the drum
and its use in jazz, we will also look into the life of one of the greatest
drummers in the jazz idiom. Drums consist of at least one membrane called the
drumhead or drum skin that is stretched tightly over a shell and struck either
directly with the player’s hands or with a drum stick to produce sound. A drum
kit or drum set (trap set) is a collection of drums, cymbals and other
percussion instruments such as cowbells, woodblocks, triangles, chimes or
tambourines arranged for convenient playing by a single person.
drumming is the art of playing percussion-(mainly the drum set,) which includes
a variety of drums and cymbals. Its styles range from the Dixieland jazz of the
1910’s, to the jazz-rock fusion of the 70’s and the Latin jazz of the 80’s.The
techniques and instrumentation of jazz drumming has evolved over several
periods, greatly influenced by jazz itself and the individual drummers within
it. Stylistically, the aspect of performance was shaped by its starting
place-New Orleans, as well as numerous other regions in the world, including
parts of the United States, the Caribbean and Africa. Each period of the
evolution of jazz, had its own rhythmic style which developed along with the
music through the 20th Century. One tendency that emerged over time was the
gradual ‘freeing ‘of the beat. Other styles persisted in later periods, but the
borders between these periods are unclear, partly because no one style
completely replaced others, and because of the cross influences between styles.
of the biggest names in jazz drumming is a guy called Art Blakey. Along with
Kenny Clark and Max Roach, he was one of the inventors of the modern bebop
style of drumming. For more than thirty years, his band-‘Art Blakey and the
Jazz Messengers’ was at the forefront of jazz drumming and included young
musicians who went on to become prominent names in jazz. His birth name is
Arthur Blakey, later known as Abdullah Ibn Buhaina after his conversation to
Islam in the late 40’s during a visit to West Africa. He was born in Pittsburg,
Pennsylvania on October 11th 1919, and started playing the piano as a teenager.
He later taught himself how to play the drums, copying the swing styles of
Chick Webb, Sid Catlett and Ray Banduc.In 1942; he joined Mary Lou Williams as
a drummer and played at an engagement in New York. Prior to this, between 1939
and 1942, he toured with the Fletcher Henderson orchestra and with Billy
Eckstein’s band between 1944 and 1947. He was associated with the modern jazz
movement, along with his fellow band members, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon and
1947, Blakey put together a group of musicians called “the Messengers” and
recorded an octet called “the Jazz Messengers”. In the early 1950’s he
performed with such musicians as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown
and Horace Silver who was his kindred and shared the same musical spirit at
that time. In 1953, Blakey and Silver formed a cooperative group with Hank
Mobley and Kenny Dorham retaining the name- Jazz Messengers, and in 1954 they
recorded the album “a Night at Birdland”.
left the band in 1956 to start his own group, and Blakey became the leader of
the “Messengers” which became the springboard for young musicians such as
Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis, Chuck
Mangione and others. From his earliest recording session with Billy Eckstine
and Thelonius Monk in 1947, Blakey exuded power and originality.
discouraged comparison of his own music with African drumming, he adopted
several African styles and devices after his visit to Africa, including tapping
the side of the drum, and using his elbow on the tom-tom to alter the high
pitch. Blakey was known as a loud and domineering drummer who also listened and
responded to his soloist.
contribution to jazz as discoverer and molder of young talent over three
decades was no less significant than his very considerable innovations on his
to the 1960’s, Art also recorded as a sideman with many other musicians such as
Jimmy Smith, Cannonball Adderley, Grant Green, Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley
amongst many others. Thereafter, he mainly concentrated on his work as a
leader. The Messengers originated in a series of groups led by Blakey and
Silver, but the name was not used in the earlier recordings. However, the name
was used by Blakey in the late 40’s playing with various musicians. In 1955,
the group comprising Silver, Blakey, Mobley, Dorham and Doug Watkins, recorded
the live album entitled “The Jazz Messengers at the Café Bohemia”.
following year in 1956, Donald Byrd replaced Dorham and the group recorded the
album simply called “The Jazz Messengers”. It was during this period that
Silver left the band and Art became the sole leader of the group from then
onwards known as “Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers”. Between 1959 and 1961,
the group featured Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Jimmy Merrith and Lee Morgan. By
1961-1964 it was now a sextet with the addition of trombonist Curtis Fuller.
Shorter was the musical director of the group and his experimental inclinations
pushed the band into an engagement with the 60’s “New Ting” as it was called.
would move on to record dozens of albums with a constantly changing group of
jazz messengers. He had a policy of encouraging young musicians and once
remarked “I’m gonna stay with the youngsters. When these get too old, I’ll get
some younger ones, Keeps the mind active”. Between 1971 and 1972, he toured
with jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie, Kia Windina, Sony Stitt, Thelonius Monk and
Al McKibbob. In the 80’s, his band got revitalized and included the like of
Wynton Marsalis, Terrence Blanchard, Donald Harrison and Kenny Garret. Blakey
died in 1990 in New York City, leaving behind a vast legacy and an approach to
jazz which is still the model for countless hard bop players.
continue to mourn the death of Hugh Masekela, South African Jazz Musician who
died recently in Johannesburg. He was a great African who loves his continent
and people. He was also an internationalist. May his soul rest in peace.