Although Art Blakey (1919-1990) was the featured artist on
the “Jazz at the Smithsonian,” a 1982 concert released on
DVD in 2005, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (1961 – ) was
billed as the “musical director,” possibly in reference
to his position at the Smithsonian. This DVD was
released under the Shanachie Entertainment label.
“Art Blakey and His Jazz Messengers” was the common
billing used for the various configurations of Blakey’s
ensembles dating back to the mid 1950’s; however, he
first used the moniker when recording with an octet in
the 1940’s. Blakey’s group had long been an “incubating”
ensemble for musicians who would later headline their
own Jazz groups. In terms of playing style, this group
was also a keeper of the Bop tradition; therefore, it’s
fitting that Marsalis played with Blakey, and this concert
could be viewed as a “passing of the baton” from an
older Jazz legend to a new up-and-coming star.
Wynton’s brother, Branford (1960 – ) is also featured
here playing alto saxophone, instead of his customary
tenor and soprano saxophone instruments. The three-horn
front line was completed by Bill Pierce on tenor sax,
with Paul Brown on piano and Charles Fambrough on bass.
Of course, Blakey was on drums in this particular
incarnation of his Jazz Messengers.
All of these musicians showed great technical proficiency,
although perhaps Blakey seemed more content to lay
back and not solo, thereby letting the “youngsters” do
their thing. He certainly had nothing to prove at this
stage in his career.
In many ways, this was clearly Wynton Marsalis’ show,
and he demonstrated his fabulous chops on several
occasions. From an early age, he became proficient in
the both Classical and Jazz genres. In fact, he won
Grammys in both disciplines during his early twenties.
While the playing by these musicians was quite
impressive, the actual music left me a bit cold. It would
have also been nice if they’d identified the pieces that
were played. At just under one hour, this DVD contains
an interview with Art Blakey, and is a valuable document
of these great players, circa 1982. It’s too bad that
the music wasn’t a bit more compelling; however,
that’s just my opinion.