Desert Island Disc 3, “Ugetsu”


I thought I would continue with a series of posts on jazz albums that I would pick as my “Desert Island Discs”.  This idea was based on the BBC radio program that asks guests to pick eight records they would want to have if they were stranded on a desert island.  A longer description of the show can be found on an earlier post entitled “Another Desert Island Disc”.

UgetsuSo far my list includes Miles Davis Kind of Blue and A Love Supreme by the John Coltrane Quartet.  (Click on each title to follow a link to those blog posts).  My next choice is a live  album  by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers from  1963 called Ugetsu.  It was recorded live at the Birdland jazz club in New York City after the group had toured Japan.  The title tune “Ugetsu” and  “On the Ginza”, were inspired by their time in Japan.  As Blakey explains it to the audience, Ugetsu is Japanese for Fantasy.

art-blakeyBlakey was the leader of the group he called the Jazz Messengers for over three decades.  He found some of the greatest young talent available to play in the group, where they gained experience and exposure before leading groups of their own.  Some of the greatest jazz musicians of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s came through the ranks of the Jazz Messengers.  The hard-bop style of Blakey’s groups was rooted in blues and swing and never disappointed the listener.  Take the time to listen to any album by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers that you come across.

This incarnation of the Messengers featured Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Curtis Fuller on trombone, and a rhythm section of Cedar Walton on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Blakey on drums as always.  As I read that list of names over, it is no surprise that there is not a bad note on the entire album.  I really like the sextet group setting for small group jazz, with three horns.  It allows the composer/arranger to add so much color to the harmonic voicings that can’t be done in a smaller setting.  There is great writing on this album.  Listen to the Wayne Shorter tune that opens the set, “One by One”

One by One.

Of course, there is also great solos on every single tune on this album.  Listen to “Time Off”, an up tempo tune that has smokin’ hot solos by the whole front line of the group.  First up is Fuller on trombone.  (For more on great jazz trombone work, see “No Bones About It!”)

Time Off.

I always loved the drumming of Art Blakey.  I got to see him live at the University of Chicago in 1989, about a year before he died.  I remember riding the el to a stop in south Chicago that was not nearly as close to the University as it looked on the map.  My companions and I ran several blocks to the auditorium as to not be late, only to discover the plane delivering the band to Chicago was delayed.  The concert started about 90 minutes late.  It was well worth the wait.  By this time in his life, Blakey was grey haired and had lost most of his hearing.  His drumming had not lost a step, however, and had all the energy and force of his younger years.  He was the bandleader and always had played the drums as loud as he cared to, like every group led by a percussionist.  Who was going to tell him to quiet down? 🙂

My favorite quote by Art Blakey is actually from 1954, when he was talking about working with younger musicians:

I’m gonna stay with the youngsters.  When these get too old I’ll get some younger ones.  Keeps the mind active

Active he stayed, and recorded a discography that includes almost 100 albums with musicians who went on to become some of the best jazz musicians to ever play their instruments.  The members of his group continually changed, but the quality of the “message” was always fantastic.  I wouldn’t want to be stuck on the Desert Island without a little Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers!


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