Blakey, Art (Buhaina, Abdullah Ibn)

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Blakey, Art (Buhaina, Abdullah Ibn)

October 11, 1919
October 16, 1990

The drummer and bandleader Art Blakey was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and orphaned as an infant. Blakey learned enough piano in his foster home and at school to organize a group and play a steady engagement at a local nightclub while still in his early teens. He later taught himself to play drums, emulating the styles of Kenny Clarke, Chick Webb, and Sid Catlett. Blakey left Pittsburgh for New York City with Mary Lou Williams' band in the fall of 1942. He left her band in 1943 to tour with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. After his stint with Henderson, he briefly formed his own big band in Boston before heading west to Saint Louis to join Billy Eckstine's new big bebop band. Blakey remained with the band during its three-year duration, working with other modern jazz musicians including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, and Fats Navarro.

After Eckstine disbanded the group in 1947, Blakey organized another big band, the Seventeen Messengers. At the end of the year, he took an octet including Kenny Dorham, Sahib Shihab, and Walter Bishop Jr. into the studio to record for Blue Note Records as the Jazz Messengers. That same year, Blakey joined Thelonious Monk on his historic first recordings for Blue Note, recordings that document both performers as remarkably original artists. The next year Blakey went to Africa to learn more about Islamic culture and subsequently adopted the Arabic name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. During the early 1950s Blakey continued to perform and record with the leading innovators of his generation, including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Clifford Brown. With his kindred musical spirit Horace Silver, Blakey in 1955 formed a cooperative group with Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Doug Watkins (bass), and Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), naming the quintet the Jazz Messengers. When Silver left the group in 1956, Blakey assumed leadership of the seminal hard bop group, renowned for combining solid, swinging jazz with rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues idioms.

Blakey's commitment to preserving the quintessence of the hard bop tradition was unflagging for over thirty-five years. His group toured widely, serving both as a school for young musicians and as the definitive standard for what has become known as straight-ahead jazz. Blakey's Jazz Messengers graduated from its ranks many of the most influential figures in jazz, including Wayne Shorter; Freddie Hubbard; Donald Byrd; Jackie McLean; Lee Morgan; Johnny Griffin; Woody Shaw; Keith Jarrett; JoAnn Brackeen; Branford, Delfeayo, and Wynton Marsalis; Donald Harrison; and Terence Blanchard.

A drummer famous for his forceful intensity, hard swinging grooves, and inimitable press roll, Blakey also adopted several African drumming techniques, including rapping the sides of his drums and altering the pitch of the tom-toms with his elbow, expanding the timbral and tonal vocabulary of jazz drumming. His drumming style as an accompanist is characterized by an unwavering cymbal beat punctuated by cross-rhythmic accents on the drums. A distinctive soloist, Blakey exploited the full dynamic potential of his instrument, often displaying a command of rhythmic modulation and a powerful expressiveness that incorporated polyrhythmic conceptual influences from West Africa and Cuba. In addition to his singular achievements as a drummer and bandleader, Blakey also served as a catalyst, bringing together percussionists from diverse traditions to perform and record in a variety of ensembles. His versatility as a drummer outside of the context of his own group received global recognition during his 19711972 tour with the Giants of Jazz, which included Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Thelonious Monk, Kai Winding, and Al McKibbon. Blakey died in New York City in 1990.

See also Islam; Jazz


"Art Blakey." In Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 37, edited by Ashyia Henderson. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 2003.

Gourse, Leslie. Art Blakey: Jazz Messenger. New York: Schirmer, 2002.

Porter, Lewis. "Art Blakey." In The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, edited by Barry Kernfeld. London: Grove's Dictionaries, 1988, pp. 115116.

Southern, Eileen. "Art Blakey." In Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1982, p. 37.

anthony brown (1996)
Updated bibliography

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Blakey, Art (Buhaina, Abdullah Ibn)

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