Recorded on October 30, 1958
The third version of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers debuted with this stunning album. Tenor saxophonist Benny Golson helped give the quintet its own personality with his compositions and arrangements (contributing "Blues March," "Along Came Betty," "Are You Real," and "The Drum Thunder Suite" to this set), 20-year-old trumpeter Lee Morgan quickly emerged as a powerful soloist and the funky pianist Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'" became the Messengers' first real hit. This classic album, a major influence on hard bop.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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Not for nothing did Art Blakey select the term Messengers to denote his musical and personal purpose at the onset of his band-leading career. Manifestly all meaningful music carries its own built-in message, and to this extent the term could reasonably be applied to any combination of performers (even the coolest horn man has a message, no matter how diffidently stated), What is more Important in Blakey's case is that his message is transmitted not merely in his music but in his words and speeches, his actions and personality.
This characteristic of Blakey has been increasingly evident during the eventful years since he gave up his last job as a sideman (with the Buddy De Franco quartet, of which he was a member from 1951 -53). He has made it clear that he will never be content merely with the knowledge that his musical message is correctly constructed. Its rhythmic syntax and melodic grammar unimpeachable. This is merely the starting point for Blakey: once equipped to deliver his message he is determined to find an audience for it, and for all of jazz. He is not merely a spokesman for Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, but a pleader for the whole cause of modern music.
Once, in a conversation reported in Down Beat by John Tynan, he expressed the view that Americans have not had the chance to appreciate their own music. "They haven't been sold on It: and there is a great deal of selling to be done... Why don't these high-powered salesmen go to work on Jazz? Let's sell jazz a bit. It's more American than a lot of other things."
Blakey, though he sometimes coats his verbal messages with a surface of sardonic humor, is in deadly earnest about selling his audiences on the importance of the music he represents. To one audience he pleaded: "Jazz is worth more to this country in foreign aid than all the billions of dollars the government can spend. It's American through and through I beg of you. support jazz. I'm not proud, I'm begging you on my knees to support your own music." And in St. Louis, explaining one night to a noisy crowd that he couldn't rise above them by playing louder, because he didn't have a rock and roll band, he added, "We play modem jazz, and to understand it you must listen. We study, we rehearse. The Jazz Messengers are very serious about getting the music across to you If you don't want to listen, maybe the person sitting next to you does."
Fortunately. In the year or two that have elapsed since Art gave vent to these outbursts, the musi-cal climate has warmed perceptibly to Jazz in general. During the recent past Art's message has been transmitted by a succession of new and well-equipped solo talents; the group has retained its simple two-hom-and-rhythm format and remains a reflection of its leader's personality, no matter who may be standing in the front line or Hanking Art in the rhythm section.
Of the personnel heard on these sides, the horns of Lee Morgan and Benny Golson are too familtar to Blue Note fans to need any introduction, as is Bobby Timmons' piano. There, is, however, one newcomer in the house, an artist talented and promising enough to deserve a momentary spotlight and a biographical bow. He Is bassist Jymie Merritt.
Born In 1926 In Philadelphia, Jymie was still in school when he first heard Jimmy Blanton on the classic Ellington records and was Inspired to study bass. The opportunity to follow the Blanton tradition was delayed by a period in the service, but soon after his resumption of civilian life in 1949 he began to study concert bass with a member of the Philadelphia Symphony, as well as spending three years at the local Orenstein School. After gigging with Tadd Dameron, Benny Golson and Philly Joe Jones in 1949, he went on the road with Bull Moose Jackson. This was the first of a series of rhythm and blues jobs - he was with Chris Powell just after Clifford Brown had left the group, and from 1955-57 spent much of his time touring the south with B.B King. But there were opportunities to play Jazz between these jobs. Commuting from New York to Philadelphia he pliayed with Sonny Stitt, Lester Young and Roy Eldridge. Merriti, who joined Blakey in the fall of 1958, names Ray Brown. Charlie Mingus. Oscar Pettiford, Al McKibbon and Paul Chambers as his favorites (after Blanton, that is).
The session racks up a self-challenging achievement by starting right out with a climax, for it would be difficult to Improve on the groove established by Bobby Timmons' composition Moanin'. The first chorus Is the quintessence of funk, based on the classic call-and-response pattern, with Bobby's simple phrases (focused on the tonic) answered by the horns and rhythm punctuations on straight, churchy pairs of chords (B Flat and F). Notice how simply Lee's solo opens, fanning out slowly in impact and intensity until by the first release he is swinging in a more complex fashion. Two choruses each by trumpet, tenor and piano are followed by one on bass.
Are You Real? Is the kind of straightforward melody that could as easily have been a pop song designed by one of the better commercial tunesmiths. (It came as no surprise to me to learn that when it was written, four years ago, by Benny Golson. he equipped it with lyrics.) Structurally It is a 32-bar chorus plus a four-bar tag. After Benny's busy but well-organized chorus. Lee takes a solo that reminds one again how impressively this youngster has been developing; his solo here, as throughout the present album, show more attention to form and content, less to technical display, then much of the early work in his days as an 18-year-old sideman with Dizzy's big band. Timmons. too. has a chorus that moves smoothly from phrase to phrase, with discreel help from the horns' backing on the release. A typical chorus of lours (ending with eight from Art to account tor the tag) precedes the closing chorus.
Along Came Betty, a wistful theme played by the horns in unison, was inspired not by the personality but. curiousiy. by the walk of the young lady for whom it was named. An attempt was made in the composition to capture "the musical effect of her grace and femininity," If the music reflects her gait accurately Betty walks at a moderate pace with evenly placed, legato steps. Notice in Lee's chorus the wry simplicity of the first few measures in his last eight bars. Benny, too, tends to underplay In his solo, while Art's subterranean swells at bars 8 and 16 are the only changes of pattern in an otherwise unbroken and unflaggingly efficient rhythmic support. The Bobby Timmons chorus, which at this tempo could have been a clutter of sixteenths, bases itself more on a triplet feel in its single-note lines. The gentle mood is retained as the horns resume for the final chorus, ending lightly and politely as they began.
The second side opens dynamically with Golson's Drum Thunder Suite, which was born of a desire on Art's part to play a compost-tion making exclusive and dramatic use of mallets. Since mallets automatically tend to suggest thunder, the tide was selected, says Golson, before a note was written.
The work is in three movements' the first. Drum Thunder, is self-explanatory, with contributing thunderclaps by soloist Morgan. Golson and Timmons serving as bndges between the Blakey statements. The second movement (subtitled Cry a Blue Tear) is designed in sharp contrast, with a Latin feeling ("so that An could show how subtly and effectively he can shade"). The third theme. Harlem's Disciples, Is a funky melody in which the only strict rhythm girders are Art's sock cymbals. A brilliant moment of tension is created by the piano so!o, with horn backing, before the front line takes over to lead into the concluding drum solo.
The implications of Biues March are clear from the first measure. An attempt is made here (with considerable success, it seems to me) to fuse some of the spirit of the old New Orleans marching bands with the completely modem approach of improvisation as it is felt by the present-day soloists featured here; at the same time the theme, with its slight bugle-call orientation, has a period quality that ties the work together in a unique and compelling manner. It is rewarding to study the way in which Art supports the solos by trumpet, tenor and piano with a heavy four-four rhythm that escapes any suggestion of thudding monotony, yet retains the marching mood established by the introduction. Timmons' solo is quite striking in its gradual build from a simple one-note line into an exciting chordal chorus.
Come Rain or Come Shine Is a reminder that Blakey has found the secret of reconciling the hard-bop temperament of his band with the melodic character of a typical standard tune. The melody is slightly rephrased through the use of syncopation, the horns Introduce it in unison and the soloists takes over for a quartet of choruses - Timmons, Golson, Morgan. Merritt - that are no less a reflection of the Messengers' essential qualities than anything else in the set The magnificent pulsation of yet another superbly integrated Blakey rhythm section is heard to maximum effect on this track, it seems to me; indeed, one is reminded again how much of this quintet's real Identity, regardless of who happens to be playing with it or writing for it at any given time. Is in essence a mirror of the personality of its leader. Merritt's chorus here is remarkably melodic, never just a bass chorus, but a solo that could have been played no less valuably on a trumpet, saxophone or piano.
Shortly after these sides were recorded, Blakey and his mailmen took off on a special delivery tour that brought them to France and other Continental points where their message had been picked up for years, with unwavering enthusiasm, through records. The opportunity to communicate in person, in an area he knew to be completely sympathetic with his musical alms, was welcomed by-Art however, as he told Tynan a year or so ago. 'The only thing I haven't figured out yet is how I'm going to preach to those people over there when we don't ail speak the same language."
Then Art provided hie own eloquent and appropriate answer as he grinned and added "But who needs words, man -they'll get the message!
- Leonard Feather (Author of The Book of Jazz. Horizon Press)
This is perhaps Art Blakey's most successful album, spawning three solid, timeless hits. As popular as Benny Golson's "Blues March" and "Along Came Betty" were, it was Bobby Timmons' funky "Moanin"' that has become the quintessential jazz classic. On this CD edition of this pioneering album, an earlier alternate take of "Moanin"' has been included. It is most interesting to hear a piece whose solos are so strong that we have recorded them in our minds and now be able to compare them with another take made that same day. On the newly discovered alternate. Lee Morgan's solo certainly does not live up to the genius that he displayed on the master take, but the piano and tenor sax solos are equal to if not better than those on the master take
- Michael Cuscuna