Celebrating Art Blakey
Jazz aficionados are well acquainted with the name Art Blakey, a renowned 20th Century bebop/hard bop drummer from Pittsburgh who teamed with jazz pianist Horace Silver (from Norwalk) in 1954 to form the Jazz Messengers, and helped lead the group to greatness.
The group was responsible for the recordings “Moanin’” and “Ugetsu,” two must-haves for any jazz lover’s collection. And over five decades, Blakey released hit after hit and some of the best jazz music around.
Blakey died in New York City in 1990 at the age of 71 from lung cancer but his music lives on.
On Aug. 5, Neighborhood Studios and JazzFC honor the musical legend by presenting “An All-Star Tribute to Art Blakey” at the Bijou Theatre, featuring Greg Wall, co-founder of JazzFC.
Known as “the Jazz Rabbi,” Wall’s innovative downtown blend of jazz and world music has led him to some of the top jazz halls in the world, including Carnegie Hall and top venues throughout Europe, Israel and the U.S.
“We’ll be doing some of the arrangements that Blakey recorded in the late ’60s, just real icons of small group jazz,” Wall said. “These tunes are always exciting to hear live and I think people are going to really enjoy what we do.”
Wall has assembled some of the area’s greatest jazz players for the night, including Steeplechase recording artist Michael Cochrane on piano, Phil Bowler on bass, Steve Johns on drums, Steve Davis on trombone and Andy Gravish on trumpet.
“We are doing a tribute and the group will be comprised of some people who played with him — Steve Davis and Phil Bowler both did some gigs with him — and the rest are A-listers and make up this all-star lineup,” Wall said. “This is a rare opportunity to hear this level of musicianship in Bridgeport, especially in a space that isn’t used too much for jazz.”
The concert will benefit Neighborhood Studios of Fairfield County, a Bridgeport-based community school of the arts for children and teens, which provides high quality art, music, theatre, and dance instruction to children ages 3-18 regardless of ability, background or finances.
“We’re very fortunate to have Greg and his musicians performing for us,” said Frank Derico, NSFC’s executive director. “He has already done a lot for our students, including hosting a jazz clinic and we hope that we can continue this collaboration in the future. This concert is a great chance for us to reach more people and talk about the great work we do in the arts so we’re really excited to be part of this event.”
In 1956, Blakey and the Jazz Messengers started recording on the Blue Note label, yielding a rich array of music, including the At the Jazz Corner of the World series, “Buhaina’s Delight” and “Free for All.” He also recorded at Birdland. Blakey earned an instrumental Grammy with the Messengers for 1984’s “New York Scene” and the both the single and album of “Moanin’” are part of the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Blakey was also considered a strong influence on younger jazz musicians and some noted names who played alongside him as members of the Messengers include Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Chuck Mangione, Keith Jarrett, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis and Terence Blanchard.
“Through his music and his group, Blakey offered something of a finishing school for musicians,” Wall said. If you played with Art, chances are you were going to emerge as a bandleader in your own right. So many of the great stars of the next generation got their job with Blakey.”
JazzFC has been involved in an apprenticeship program with the young musicians of NSFC and Wall feels it’s important that people follow in Blakey’s footsteps in regards to introducing jazz to younger people.
“The relationship reminded me of Art and his dedication. He used to say, ‘when these guys grow up, I’ll get myself some younger ones.’ The future of jazz was always important to him,” he said. “That’s why this concert is a great cause. Not only can those at NSFC acquire these skills, but they also develop really good work habits and this is a way for people to contribute to the success of young people in Bridgeport.”
An All-Star Tribute to Art Blakey will be held 7 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 5, at the Bijou Theater. Tickets range from $25-$50. For more information, visit BijouTheatreCT.net.