Art Blakey Photography

Art Blakey

Art Blakey took piano lessons as a child and was working professionally by the seventh grade. In the early ’30s, he switched from piano to drum at the request of a club owner—a request he often characterized as “forced at gunpoint.” This change of instrumentation was the beginning of a profoundly influential career that spanned six decades.

In the ’40s Blakey played with Billy Eckstine’s big band, joining bandmates like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughn. He would later perform with bebop pioneers Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. In the mid-1950s he formed the Jazz Messengers—a bluesy, funky, hard bop collective—and would lead them for the rest of his career.

Over the decades, the ever–changing lineup of the Jazz Messengers offered Blakey the opportunity to mentor many key figures in the hard bop movement. Blakey earned a Grammy with the Messengers for 1984 album New York Scene. The Messengers’ trademark track, “Moanin’,” and the album of the same name were both inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame after his death in 1990 at the age of 71.

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