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JazzTimes 10: Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

In honor of Bu’s 100th birthday, here are 10 of his best performances

5. “Free for All” (Free for All; Blue Note, 1964)

Even with all the jazz greats who passed through Blakey’s ranks, the 1963-64 lineup still boggles the mind: Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, and Reggie Workman. Workman has said that Free for All was the younger, progressive-minded musicians’ attempt to force Blakey into grappling with the New Thing. It failed: Blakey remained Blakey. That said, the Shorter-composed title track does flirt with both modalism and free interplay. What really seals it, though, isn’t its cutting edge but its performance; not only do we hear all of the above musicians, we hear all of them firing on all thrusters. Blakey outdoes himself in his comps, spurring Shorter, Fuller, and Hubbard, respectively, to heights that are still startling 55 years later. Then, when the leader really lets loose, he does stuff that progressive drummers are still trying to catch up with today.

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.