Thoughts on “Wakey Blakey” – The Music of Art Blakey

In the great debate about the superiority or otherwise of the audio quality of analogue sound (vinyl) as opposed to digital (CD and download), there is one listening experience that can be forgotten and that, of course, is live music.  Nothing beats it, especially when the band delivers to such a high standard as Wakey Blakey, the sextet led by Rory Ingham and James Davison playing the music of the classic sextet lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Mesengers.  It’s not just the immediacy of the experience and the fidelity of sound or even the spontaneity and sheer joy of improvised music, but being able to witness first-hand how musicians work together.

Last night was a cracker of an evening, a feast of hard bop by a superlative sextet who gave us the music of Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and Curtis Fuller originally recorded by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.  These albums are getting a fresh play today as I relive last night’s gig and marvel at the music once again.  

I am lucky to have seen Wayne Shorter many times as well as Cedar Walton and Freddie Hubbard once each, but not all in the same room at the same time with Art Blakey and the others. “Wakey Blakey” was a real treat and an awakening to how wonderful this music sounds live.  I was struck by the similarity of James Davison’s tone and urgency of delivery to that of Freddie Hubbard from the beginning during “Time Off”. He was very powerful, yet completely soulful and sensitive when required as on the beautiful rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”.  I loved the bluesy growl of Rory’s trombone-playing in several numbers, especially “Hammerhead”.  An old Fleece regular used to say that the trombone was an “awkward instrument in the modern setting” but he hadn’t heard Rory play it as sensitively and as fluently as he did last night.  Rory was also a very amusing and playful compere who balanced humour with respect for the music of the Jazz Messengers.  Alex Garnett was a dep for another Alex and it was one of his best performances on tenor sax that I have seen from him in a while.  He played with conviction and soul and delivered some warm solos throughout.  

Pianist Matt Carter provided a constant propulsive rhythm throughout many numbers and did so faultlessly, with occasional bursts of freer improvisation. Misha Mullov-Abbado was a tall presence alongside his double bass, using his long frame and long dextrous fingers at such a rapid pace to provide the propulsive beat demanded by the faster numbers. I especially loved his solo that introduced Hubbard’s “The Core”. I’ve left our drummer until last which is how it often is, but this was a homage to the great Art Blakey, a huge presence who played with so much drive and passion. Luke Tomlinson was, like Art, sensitive to what was going on around the music and had two memorable and powerful solos on “Free For All” and “Ping Pong” that penetrated to the core.

The last word goes to Carlos Santana: “Art Blakey’s drive, passion, soulfulness, heart and innovation were and still are inspirations that help and require us to move the music ever forward.” That was very much in evidence in last night’s performance from Wakey Blakey.

Take care,


Dave says:

That was an accurate review of a great show. The sound check was terrific fun to be part of, even though the only mics were piano and leader.



Towards the beginning of the gig, Rory Ingham explained that the numbers they would be playing were originally performed by the classic sextet lineup of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers: Wayne Shorter (tenor sax); Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); Curtis Fuller (trombone); Cedar Walton (Piano); Reggie Workman (Bass); as well as Art Blakey (drums) himself. The selections were mostly from the albums Mosaic (1961), Caravan (1962), Ugetsu (1963) and Free For All (1964

  1. Time Off (Curtis Fuller) from the album Ugetsu
  2. Hammerhead (Wayne Shorter) from the album Free For All
  3. Free For All (Wayne Shorter) from the album Free For All
  4. Skylark (Hoagy Carmichael)from the album Caravan
  5. One By One (Wayne Shorter) from the album Ugetsu

*          *          *           *         *        *        *

  1. Children of the Night (Wayne Shorter) from the album Mosaic
  2. In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning (David Mann)from the album Caravan
  3. The Core (Freddie Hubbard) from the album Free For All
  4. Miyako (Wayne Shorter) from his album Schizophrenia 
  5. Ping Pong (Wayne Shorter) from the album Ugetsu
  6. Encore: Down Under (Freddie Hubbard) from the album Mosaic
Posted in gig, Uncategorized.

One Comment

  1. So very sad I could not get to this memerable gig. I was privalidge to see the great man and his Messengers for the first time, in his usual boiler suit, playing in Hildesheim, Germany in 1979. I took along a teacher friend who was introduced to this ace drummer for the first time. George was not dissapointed. Art put on a memorable performance with his Messengers, who had a Russian horn in the line up, whose first name was Valerie, as for the Russian’s surname it escapes me now. Boy, did they complement one another, as all Messanger do. Another memorable night once experienced never forgotten, as yours must have been.
    Hope you get the Wakey Blakey together again sometime soon,

    Regards Julian

Comments are closed.