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Jazz Drummer Art Blakey Dies; Band Nurtured Generations of Jazz Artists

October 16, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ Art Blakey, a drummer whose band nurtured generations of leading jazz players, died Tuesday. He was 71.

He died of lung cancer at St. Vincent’s Hospital, hospital spokeswoman Barbara Cron said.

″I’ve got to go make a record now, feeling like this,″ trumpeter Freddie Hubbard said when he heard about Blakey’s death. ″Art Blakey was the first one who gave me a big opportunity.″

For the major part of his career, Blakey did his drumming for the Jazz Messengers, the band that came together under his leadership in the early 1950s.

Dizzy Gillespie, the giant of be-bop, once described Blakey as ″the volcano″ of be-bop drummers. He was considered in the top echelon that included such drummers as Max Roach and Buddy Rich.

In a television film about Blakey’s career, a Jazz Messengers alumnus, pianist Walter Davis, said: ″I think no one in jazz has brought more great musicians to music that Art Blakey.″

The 1981 Newport Jazz Festival gave over an evening to ″The Blakey Legacy,″ in which the drummer was joined by the players who had been with his band during the previous quarter century.

Blakey denied being a teacher, saying that as a self-taught musician, ″I don’t know anything myself.″

But another time he said, ″When I take these 18-year-old kids out on tour, it makes most of the pros feel like cutting their wrists. ... They’re going to take the music farther than it has been.″

Among the musicians who got a start with Blakey’s band have been horn players Wynton Marsalis, Clifford Brown, Chuck Mangione and Hubbard, saxophonists Jackie McLean, Wayne Shorter and Johnny Griffin, pianists Keith Jarrett and Walter Davis.

Hubbard described Blakey as a mentor for young musicians, guiding them through life as well as music.

″Being with him at a very young age, like 20, coming from Indiana and not being exposed to the fast lifestyle in New York, having somebody take you to Japan and Europe and teach you how to function on the road and how to be a man - he was a great person,″ Hubbard said.

Hubbard spoke to Blakey by phone in the hospital on his birthday last Thursday.

″He told us, ’Don’t be grieving when I die. Think about the good moments, what we did together and what you can do later on.″

Marsalis said, ″His life was given to educating younger musicians and entertaining his adoring public.″

″His credo was, ‘You’ll never see an armored car full of money following a hearse,’ Marsalis said. ″The only car that will follow Mr. Blakey is a big one filled with the affection, admiration and gratitude of the many whose lives he selflessly enriched.″

Blakey was born in Pittsburgh in 1919, escaping the steel mills as a 15- year-old by playing piano at a nightclub. Then a 14-year-old hotshot named Erroll Garner showed up and ″I was told to go to the drums by the club owner,″ Blakey recalled.

The young Blakey caught on with Fletcher Henderson’s band and went on to Billy Eckstine’s big band in the mid-1940s, when he first worked with Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

The Jazz Messengers band was formed in 1954 by Blakey, pianist Horace Silver, trumpeter Kenny Dorham and saxophonist Hank Mobley. The band toured Europe and played all around the United States for the next three decades, including a White House performance in 1981.

Blakey’s jazz drummer son, Art Jr., died in 1988 at age 47.

Survivors include his children, Evelyn Blakey, a singer, Gwendolyn Blakey, Jacqueline Blakey Meeks, Khadija Buhaina, Sakeena Buhaina, Gamal Buhaina, Takashi Buhaina, Akira Buhaina and Kenji Buhaina. He is survived also by five grandchildren.

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