Like many venerable jazz musicians, the drummer
Art Blakey hung on long enough to see his approach to music come
back into style. A leading drummer of the post-World War II bop
style epitomized by Charlie Parker, Blakey was better known for
his leadership of his Jazz Messengers, one of the longest-running
and consistently-excellent groups in jazz. The road to legendary
status was winding, however. Eschewing the avant-garde, Blakey was
ignored by jazz critics in the experimental 1960s and shunned by
American audiences in the 1970s, when rock exerted its hegemonic
control over the business of pop music. Unable to land a U.S.
recording contract, he released numerous albums for European
labels in the 1980s and won belated attention from American
critics for his brief association with trumpet prodigy Wynton
Marsalis. Ten years ago, Marsalis burst onto the jazz scene as a
mature leader of his own tasteful group, and he credited a stint
with Blakey's Messengers for his own poise and artistic direction.
By the time of Blakey's death in 1990, a tour with the peripatetic
Messengers was viewed as a sort of pre-requisite for up-and-coming
jazz musicians. A quick way to be taken seriously by critics,
record producers and audiences was to pass through Blakey's
free-form university. By G.