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Art Blakey: Praise the Messenger

To honor the drummer's centennial, more than three dozen musicians who worked with the peerless bandleader share their memories of Bu

Art Blakey at the recording session for The Prophetic Herbie Nichols, Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, N.J., May 6, 1955. (photo: Francis Wolff/Mosaic Images LLC)

Everybody does the voice. Not just for his characteristic sayings, but for the mundanities. “He’d say, ‘Thank you,’” recalls trombonist Robin Eubanks, putting “Thank you” into the deep, gruff croak that represents Art Blakey—the legendary drummer and bandleader who would have been 100 years old in October. (He died in 1991.)

When everyone from Eubanks to Wayne Shorter to Wynton Marsalis does their Blakey impression, it’s with the deepest respect and affection. Across four decades, Blakey—also known as Buhaina or “Bu” for his Islamic name, Abdullah ibn Buhaina—acted as a teacher, mentor, and father figure for the musicians who passed through his band the Jazz Messengers (jazz’s most famous and sought-after finishing school). To have been a Messenger is a calling card that musicians carry proudly for life.

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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.