Art Blakey - drums; Woody Shaw - trumpet; Carlos Garnett - tenor sax; George Cables - piano; Jan Arnet - bass
The late '60s edition of the Jazz Messengers was an entirely different animal than the classic outfit from the late '50s (with tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, trumpeter Lee Morgan, pianist Bobby Timmons, bassist Jymie Merrit) or even the early '60s sextet (with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Reggie Workman). By 1969, a year that featured Sun Ra on the cover of Rolling Stone, everyone on the scene had come to acknowledge, if not absorb, the influences of the avant-garde, including 50-year-old Art Blakey. The kinetic quality of John Coltrane's intense modal extrapolations with his classic quartet (pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, drummer Elvin Jones) was an especially prevailing influence of the day and can be heard on this searing Jazz Messengers set on July 5, 1969 at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Coltrane disciple Carlos Garnett provides a lot of the latter day Trane energy on tenor throughout this inspired Saturday evening set while Woody Shaw, a brilliant young trumpeter who was emerging on the scene as a force to be reckoned with, lights up the bandstand with his startling technique and "new thing" energy. The opener is an intense modal vehicle that allows for plenty of stretching by Garnett and Shaw, whose trumpet work here is blistering. Garnett opens the ballad "Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?)" with a fusillade of powerful overblowing on tenor sax, initially signifying an avant-garde excursion but eventually settling nicely into the 1941 Ram Ramirez lament associated with Billie Holiday and subsequently covered by everyone from Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald to Etta James and Diana Ross. While Cables plays it straight on piano and Blakey provides a loping swing groove underneath, Garnett takes it out to the stratosphere on his uncompromising solo, remaining somewhat tethered to the familiar melody while still taking it 'out' in typically renegade fashion. Garnett's coda at the tag is a prime example of incendiary blowing informed by Trane, Albert Ayler and other pioneering free jazz saxophonists of the day.
Blakey and his crew of cutting edge players close out their set with an exhilarating romp through Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia," with Blakey's polyrhythmic groove fueling the proceedings. Shaw blows white hot on his frantic solo, demonstrating how he was regarded by some in those days as the equal of Freddie Hubbard in terms of sheer scintillating chops. Garnett turns in another edgy tenor solo while Cables offers a brilliant turn on piano to enhance this stellar track. Following a solo by the group's Czechoslovakian bassist Arnet, Blakey erupts into an explosive drum solo that is steeped in African poly-rhythms and old-school showmanship.
This Jazz Messengers lineup proved to be short-lived. Following this Newport performance, Shaw was replaced by Randy Brecker on trumpet, Garnett was replaced by Billy Harper on tenor, and Cables was replaced by Joanne Brackeen on piano. But while the Messengers tradition continued, the music didn't have the same audacious inside-outside spark that this unit showed at Newport in 1969.
A perennial favorite at George Wein's Newport Jazz Festival, the Pittsburgh-born Blakey was a self-taught pianist who led a big band at age 15 and who later switched to drums after being displaced on piano in his own band by fellow Pittsburgher Erroll Garner. Born on October 11, 1919, his biggest drumming influences as a teenager were Chick Webb and Big Sid Catlett, both of whom would become important mentors for Blakey in the early stages of his career. In 1942, Art traveled to New York as a member of pianist Mary Lou Williams' band to play at Kelly's Stables on fabled 52nd Street. The following year, he toured with Fletcher Henderson's big band and in 1944 joined Billy Eckstine's bebop big band, which included such young lions of the bebop movement as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Leo Parker, and also featured vocalist Sarah Vaughan. At the height of the bebop era, Blakey's aggressive style on the kit, including his trademark "dropping bombs" on the bass drum, underscored countless recordings for the Blue Note, Savoy and Prestige labels with the likes of Clifford Brown, Tadd Dameron, Fats Navarro, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, and Horace Silver.
In 1949, following a trip to West Africa, Blakey converted to Islam and took the Muslim name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. That same year he began a two-year stint as house drummer at the famous jazz club, Birdland. By 1954, Blakey and pianist Horace Silver formed the first edition of the Jazz Messengers, which included trumpeter Kenny Dorham, saxophonist Hank Mobley, and bassist Doug Watkins. When the other four members left the band in 1956, Blakey carried on the band name for the next four decades, providing an important training ground for more than 200 sidemen who passed through the ranks of the Jazz Messengers over the years. A relentless road warrior, he toured extensively through the '70s and '80s. His final recording under the Jazz Messengers banner was 1990's One For All. Blakey died later that year, on October 16, 1990, just five days after his 71st birthday.
A native of Newark, New Jersey, the gifted trumpeter Woody Shaw fell under the spell of such modern trumpeters as Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Booker Little, and Lee Morgan as an aspiring player. John Coltrane would later exert a huge influence over his development as a jazz musician. Shaw's early gigging and recording experience included work with fellow Newark native, organist Larry Young (including Young's landmark 1965 Blue Note recording, Unity) and the iconoclastic alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy. Shaw also recorded on several Blue Note recordings through the 1960s with the likes of Chick Corea, Jackie McLean, McCoy Tyner, and Andrew Hill. He became a prominent bandleader during the '70s, releasing a string of acclaimed recordings for the Contemporary, Muse, and Columbia labels, while also recording again with the Jazz Messengers. Shaw continued touring and recording through the '80s, including a stellar 1985 Blue Note session with fellow trumpeter Freddie Hubbard (Double Take). Shaw was subsequently diagnosed with an incurable degenerative eye disease and on February 27, 1989 was struck by a subway car in Brooklyn, which severed his left arm. He suffered complications while in the hospital and died of kidney failure on May 10, 1989.
Saxophonist Carlos Garnett was born in Panama on December 1, 1938 and started playing tenor sax at age 19. His earliest experiences were in calypso and Latin bands and by 1962 he moved to New York, where he became immersed in the burgeoning free jazz scene and fell under the spell of tenor sax revolutionary John Coltrane. He later played with Freddie Hubbard in 1968 and with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1969. He also had brief stints in 1972 with Charles Mingus and Miles Davis while also working through the '70s with such esteemed jazz artists as Jack McDuff, Andrew Hill, and Gary Bartz. Garnett recorded five albums as a leader for Muse in the mid '70s, fell off the scene somewhat in the '80 and started a comeback in the '90s beginning with 1996's aptly-titled Resurgence for the Muse label. His most recent recording is 2001's Moon Shadow on Savant. (Milkowski)