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Art Blakey: Drum Suite

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It took almost 50 years, but our modern voluminous jazz reissue era has finally brought to CD the very first jazz album I ever owned.

It was an odd, probably arbitrary, choice for a first jazz purchase. Side one was a one-off project of the Art Blakey Percussion Ensemble: Ray Bryant, Oscar Pettiford and five drummers. Side two was three tracks by an early (1956) edition of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, with Bill Hardman, Jackie McLean, Sam Dockery and Spanky DeBrest.

I have not seen that LP with the red cover in decades, but the reissue has brought my youth flooding back; in my bedroom, listening through a $20 record player, fascinated, puzzled. It was a unique record then and it still is. Side one’s meticulous drum explosions on “The Sacrifice” and “Oscalypso” are exciting, and so is the charter version of Ray Bryant’s impossibly infectious “Cubano Chant.”

As for side two, I remember that, in my very first experience of hard bop, the harshness of Hardman’s trumpet (he seemed well-named) and the stridency of McLean’s alto both alarmed and attracted me—rather like one’s first-ever sip of straight whiskey. The three Messengers tracks no longer burn going down, but they are still heady stuff.

Originally Published

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.