The University of Hartford is hosting a tribute to Art Blakey on May 22, featuring The Jazz Messengers All Star Band -- Mulgrew Miller, Javon Jackson, Carl Allen, Steve Davis, Eddie Henderson and Nat Reeves.
That's an impressive lineup, but no where near the amazing lineups Blakey assembled through his career and during the 40 years of Jazz Messengers he led.
When Mulgrew Miller was a Messenger in 1984, he played along with Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Jean Toussaint and Lonnie Plaxico.
Javon played with Kenny Garrett and Wallace Roney, Robin Eubanks and Terrence Blanchard during his time with Blakey.
And Henderson was alongside Jackie McLean, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, Airto Moreira and Valery Ponomarev while a Messenger in 1979.
From the first iteration of the Messengers through the last, Blakey surrounded himself with amazing musicians -- he often stole them from other bands and leaders, but it wasn't hard for him to do: The Jazz Messengers meant steady gigs, good pay, prestige and the opportunity to compose -- no, the expectation of composing.
Along the way, Wayne Shorter pinpointed his voice and Wynton Marsalis found his passion. Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Dorham, Cedar Walton, Eddie Gomez, Chuck Mangione, Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner, Woody Shaw, Randy Brecker, Stanley Clarke, Olu Dara and dozens more have all testified on the stage with Art Blakey behind them.
It's the history of modern jazz ... a creative force driving the progress of jazz through the 60s and 70s and 80s as forcefully as an Art Blakey snare roll and double kick on the bass ...
You really can't go wrong with a Blakey recording -- what's your favorite? I've been listening to Reflections on Buhania (1957), Ugetsu (1963) and Straight Ahead (1981) -- all full of great music.
It would be great to get to the Hartford show, but I doubt I will -- I'll have to content myself by putting some more Blakey music on my MP3 player.