Art Blakey

Art Blakey

October 11, 1919 -- October 16, 1990

Morgan-Golson Quintet

"I asked Freddie Hubbard about it. Same thing. I said, 'When I left Art Blakey, I could not play with another drummer. I was frustrated. I felt like the drummer was tickling the drums.' And Freddie said, 'You, too? I had the same problem when I left. And I just took it for granted while I was there.' "

--Benny Golson

Interview with Benny Golson

"I got a call from one of my idols, Art Blakey. He said, 'Look, I need a sub just for the night. Can you make it?' And he told me how much he'd pay. He didn't know it, but I'd have played for free. So we went down to the Café Bohemia and played. Bill Hardman was there and Spanky DeBrest. And I really enjoyed it. And I thought that was it. Art said to me at the end of the night, 'Do you think you could make it tomorrow night?' I said, 'Oh, yeah, I think I can make it.' "And then the next night, he said, 'Look, do you think you can finish the week out?' I said, 'Yeah!'

"Now I was really into it. We finished the engagement. He said to me, 'Do you think you could make one week with us in Pittsburgh?' "I thought, 'Well, one week is not so bad.' So I went to Pittsburgh with him. And just about the day before we closed, he said, 'We just got a call to go to Washington. Do you think you could make it one more week?' He suckered me little by little.

"We came back to New York to do something. We went to the bar next door where the drinks were cheap. I didn't drink, but we used to congregate there." Lowering his voice, Benny said, "Art was late all the time. He wasn't making any money. There were no uniforms. The guys, the habits were . . ." Again, the ellipsis, and Benny continued: "I said, 'Art, you should be a millionaire, with your kind of talent.' He looked at me with those sad, cow eyes, and he said . . ." Benny's voice dropped to a pathetic hopelessness: "He said, 'Can you help me?'

"I can't believe what I said to him!" Benny laughed at the memory of his own seeming audacity.

"I said, 'Yes. If you do exactly what I tell you.'

"He said, 'What shall I do?'

"I said, 'Get a new band.'"

"He said, 'Who we gonna get?'

"I said, 'There's a young trumpet player from Philadelphia playing with Dizzy, named Lee Morgan. He's only eighteen years old.'

"He said, 'Can he play?'

"I said, 'Oh yeah, he can play.'

"He said, 'Who you got in mind for bass?'

"I said, 'There's another guy from Philadelphia, named Jymie Merritt.'" Merritt had played in Philadelphia with Golson, Coltrane, and Philly Joe, and had been with Bull Moose Jackson. At the time Golson recommended him to Blakey, he was out of jazz, working in rhythm-and-blues.

"Art said, 'What about piano?'

"I said, 'There's another guy from Philadelphia . . .'

"He said, 'What is this Philly stuff? Who is it?'

"'A guy named Bobby Timmons.'

"Then I said, 'Art, Small's Paradise doesn't want you back. You've got to set yourself separate and aside from the other groups that are playing. What's going to make you different from the guy down the street or next door?'

"He said, 'What can I do?'

"I said, "You've got to get some new material.'

"He said, 'All right.'

"So I said, 'Let me write some things.' So I wrote "Along Came Betty," "Are You Real?" I told him he needed a featured number, a number that was his own. 'But you've already played everything there is to play. Except a march!' He started laughing. I said, 'Wait a minute! A march!'

"He looked at me and said, 'Ah, come on.'

"I said, 'No, wait. I've got an idea. Let's have a rehearsal tomorrow.'

"That night I said to myself, 'How can I write a march that sounds military yet doesn't sound like the army? A little something different. Maybe a blues, but not just an ordinary blues. A blues with a different tinge.' I came up with this thing, "Blues March," just a novelty tune that would be played for a while and that would be the end of it.

The next day I brought it in. Nobody has ever played that tune the way he played it. All the world's best drummers have played that song, but to this day nobody ever played it the way he played it. That thing caught on. I couldn't believe it. Until the time he died, that was still part of the repertoire. That and "Along Came Betty" stayed in there.

"Bobby Timmons had a thing he used to play. We were out in Detroit. He used to play this funky lick between tunes, just eight bars. We got to Columbus, Ohio. I called a rehearsal. I'd got in new uniforms. I said, 'Bobby, play that lick you play. Today you're gonna put a bridge to it.' He said, 'Ah, that's just a lick.' We were at the club. I said, 'We're just gonna sit over here and lollygag, while you're onstage at the piano and putting a bridge to it.'

He said, 'How's this?' I said, 'No, that's not the same funky flavor as the outside.' He said, 'Well, you do it!' I said, 'No, this is your tune. You do it, but try to get the same funky feeling that you got on the first eight bars.'

"We sat there, and he did it, and I said, 'That's it.' We rehearsed it and played it that night and laid 'em out in the aisles. "Moanin'." The rest is history. That's how that came about.

--BENNY GOLSON, interview in
Cats Of Any Color, by Gene Lees.

A selected discography of Art Blakey albums.

More About Art Blakey

The Early Years || Shorter-Hubbard Quintet || 80's Resurgence

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