Arthur "Art" Blakey (October 11, 1919 - October 16, 1990), known later as Abdullah Ibn Buhaina, was an American Grammy Award-winning jazz drummer and bandleader. He was a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

Along with Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, he was one of the inventors of the modern bebop style of drumming. He is known as a powerful musician and a vital groover; his brand of bluesy, funky hard bop was and continues to be profoundly influential on mainstream jazz. For more than 30 years his band, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, included many young musicians who went on to become prominent names in jazz. The band's legacy is thus not only known for the music it produced, but as a proving ground for several generations of jazz musicians; Blakey's groups are matched only by those of Miles Davis in this regard.

Blakey was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame (in 1982), the Grammy Hall of Fame (in 2001), and was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

Before the Messengers

Blakey was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By the time he was a teenager, he was playing the piano full-time, leading a commercial band. Shortly afterwards, reputedly because he thought he would be unable to compete with the emerging pianist Erroll Garner, he taught himself to play the drums in the aggressive swing style of Chick Webb, Sid Catlett and Ray Bauduc. He joined Mary Lou Williams as a drummer for an engagement in New York in autumn 1942. He then toured with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra (1939-1942). During his years with Billy Eckstine's big band (1944-7), Blakey became associated with the bebop movement, along with his fellow band members Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Fats Navarro and others.

By the late forties and early fifties, Blakey was backing musicians such as Miles Davis, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk -- he is often considered to have been Monk's most empathetic drummer, and he played on both Monk's first recording session as a leader (for Blue Note Records in 1947) and his final one (in London in 1971), as well as many in between.

Blakey said that he travelled to Africa during 1948 and 1949. He converted to Islam during this period and took the name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina (which led to the nickname "Bu"). In the early 1950s he performed and broadcast with such musicians as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

From his earliest recording sessions with Eckstine, and particularly in his historic sessions with Monk in 1947, Blakey exuded power and originality, creating a dark cymbal sound punctuated by frequent loud snare- and bass-drum accents in triplets or cross-rhythms. Although Blakey discouraged comparison of his own music with African drumming, he adopted several African devices, including rapping on the side of the drum and using his elbow on the tom-tom to alter the pitch. His much-imitated trademark, the forceful closing of the hi-hat on every second and fourth beat, was part of his style from 1950 to '51. A loud and domineering drummer, Blakey also listened and responded to his soloists. His contribution to jazz as a discoverer and molder of young talent over three decades was no less significant than his very considerable innovations on his instrument.

The Jazz Messengers

In 1947 Blakey organized the Seventeen Messengers, a rehearsal band, and recorded with an octet called the Jazz Messengers. The use of the Messengers tag only stuck with the group co-led at first by both Blakey and pianist Horace Silver, though the name was not used on the earliest of their recordings. Blakey and Silver recorded together on several occasions, including live at Birdland with trumpeter Clifford Brown and alto-saxophonist Lou Donaldson in 1954 for Blue Note, having formed in 1953 a regular cooperative group with Hank Mobley and Kenny Dorham.

The "Jazz Messengers" name was first used for this group on a 1954 recording nominally led by Silver, with Blakey, Mobley, Dorham and Doug Watkins -- the same quintet would record The Jazz Messengers at the Cafe Bohemia the following year, still functioning as a collective. Donald Byrd replaced Dorham, and the group recorded an album called simply The Jazz Messengers for Columbia Records in 1956. Blakey took over the group name when Silver left after the band's first year (taking Mobley, Byrd and Watkins with him to form a new quintet with a variety of drummers), and the band was known as "Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers" from then onwards with Blakey being the sole leader, and he remained associated with it for the rest of his life. It was the archetypal hard-bop group of the 1950s, playing a driving, aggressive extension of bop with pronounced blues roots. Towards the end of the 1950s, the saxophonists Johnny Griffin and Benny Golson were in turn briefly members of the group. Golson, as music director, wrote several jazz standards which began as part of the band book such as "I Remember Clifford", and "Blues March" was regularly revived by later editions of the group. "Along Came Betty" and "Are You Real" were other Golson compositions for Blakey.

From 1959 to 1961 the group featured Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Jymie Merritt, Lee Morgan, and Bobby Timmons. The second line-up (1961-1964) was a sextet that added trombonist Curtis Fuller and replaced Morgan and Timmons with Freddie Hubbard and Cedar Walton, respectively. Shorter was now the musical director of the group, and many of his original compositions such as "Lester Left Town" remained repertoire staples later on. (Other players over the years made permanent marks on Blakey's repertoire -- Timmons, composer of "Dat Dere" and "Moanin'", and later, Bobby Watson.) Shorter's more experimental inclinations pushed the band at the time into an engagement with the 1960s "New Thing", as it was called: the influence of Coltrane's contemporary records on Impulse! is evident on Free For All (1964), often cited as the greatest document of the Shorter-era Messengers (and certainly one of the most fearsomely powerful examples of hard bop on record).

Up to the 1960s Blakey also recorded as a sideman with many other musicians: Jimmy Smith, Herbie Nichols, Cannonball Adderley, Grant Green, and Jazz Messengers graduates Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley, amongst many others. However, after the mid-1960s he mostly concentrated on his own work as a leader. Blakey also made a world tour in 1971-2 with the Giants of Jazz (with Dizzy Gillespie, Kai Winding, Sonny Stitt, Thelonious Monk and Al McKibbon).

Later career

Blakey went on to record dozens of albums with a constantly changing group of Jazz Messengers -- he had a policy of encouraging young musicians: as he remarked on-mike during the live session which resulted in the A Night at Birdland albums in 1954: "I'm gonna stay with the youngsters. When these get too old I'll get some younger ones. Keeps the mind active." After weathering the fusion era in the 1970s with some difficulty (recordings from this period are less plentiful and include attempts to incorporate instruments like electric piano), Blakey's band got revitalized in the early 1980s with the advent of neotraditionalist jazz. Wynton Marsalis was for a time the band's trumpeter and musical director, and even after Marsalis's departure Blakey's band continued as a proving ground for many "Young Lions" like Johnny O'Neal, Philip Harper, Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison and Kenny Garrett.

Blakey continued performing and touring with the group into the late 1980s; Ron Wynn notes that Blakey had "played with such force and fury that he eventually lost much of his hearing, and at the end of his life, often played strictly by instinct." Some reports suggest Blakey had hearing problems as early as 1959. Blakey died in 1990 in New York City, leaving behind a vast legacy and approach to jazz which is still the model for countless hard-bop players.

Jazz Messengers alumni

This section requires expansion.


Wynton Kelly, Joanne Brackeen, Donald Brown, Walter Davis, Jr., Sam Dockery, Kenny Drew, Benny Green, John Hicks, Keith Jarrett, Geoffrey Keezer, Mulgrew Miller, Johnny O'Neal, Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons, Cedar Walton, James Williams


Dale Barlow, Gary Bartz, Kenny Garrett, Lou Donaldson, John Gilmore, Benny Golson, Johnny Griffin, Billy Harper, Donald Harrison, Javon Jackson, Branford Marsalis, Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, Bill Pierce, David Schnitter, Wayne Shorter, Ira Sullivan, Jean Toussaint, Bobby Watson


Terence Blanchard, Clifford Brown, Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham, Bill Hardman, Philip Harper, Freddie Hubbard, Brian Lynch, Chuck Mangione, Wynton Marsalis, Lee Morgan, Woody Shaw, Valery Ponomarev, Charles Tolliver


Steve Davis, Robin Eubanks, Curtis Fuller, Frank Lacy, Tim Williams


Spanky DeBrest, Charles Fambrough, Dennis Irwin, Jymie Merritt, Curly Russell, Victor Sproles, Doug Watkins, Wilbur Ware, Reggie Workman, Riccardo Del Fra, Stanley Clarke


Bobby Broom, Kevin Eubanks


Ralph Peterson, Jr.


Jazz Mobile Development and Preservation of Jazz (1970),

Newport Jazz Festival Hall of Fame (1976),

Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame Reader's Choice Award (1981),

Smithsonian Performing Arts Certificate of Appreciation (1982),

Lee Morgan Memorial Award (1982),

Jazz Hall of Fame Induction (1982),

Grammy Award Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Group (1984) for the album New York Scene,

Jazznote Award (1986),

Doctorate of Music (1987; Berklee College of Music),

Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award (1991),

Grammy Hall of Fame Induction for the album Moanin' (2001),

Pittsburgh Jazz Festival Award,

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2005; awarded posthumously)