He taught himself to play drums and from the early 40s played in various bands. In particular, he was in Billy Eckstine's proto-bebop big band. During this period, he quickly became an in-demand bebop session musician. With Horace Silver, in the mid-50s he formed a band named The Jazz Messengers and when the pianist moved on after a few months, Blakey took control of the group. Thereafter, the drummer led this band and was thus crucial in helping originate a style of playing that brought into bop elements of soul and gospel - hard bop. Blakey's Jazz Messengers were noted not only for powerful music but also because of the upcoming bop musicians who played in the band over the decades, among many were trumpeters Terence Blanchard, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis and Lee Morgan; saxophonists Benny Golson, Johnny Griffin, Donald Harrison, Jackie McLean, Branford Marsalis, Wayne Shorter; and the pianists JoAnne Brackeen, Keith Jarrett, Bobby Timmons and Cedar Walton. Blakey's drumming early in his career showed him to be skilful and often subtle. With The Jazz Messengers his skills remained constantly in evidence although he would often play without much heed for subtlety. His playing was always very strong and thrusting, and he drove his front-line players into dynamic performances, simultaneously providing cohesiveness to the playing of the ensemble. Many of Blakey's early records still retain much of their initial impact and offer a template for latterday bands playing in today's revitalized hard bop scene. A true giant of jazz.
Followers: Elvin Jones
Influenced By: Big Sid Catlett, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach...