In Love with Art Blakey’s Minimalist Drumming

SKF NOTE: Art Blakey is well-known as a powerful drummer, a great bandleader, and one of jazz’s best talent spotters. His near constant hi-hat played on beats two and four, his musical drum soloing, his press roll — these are pieces of Art Blakey’s drum style people write and talk about most often.

But, Art Blakey is a superb drummer in at least two other areas I find mentioned less. Blakey is an exceptional big band drummer. That was clear to me back in the mid-1970s on my first listen to a live 1945 recording of Blakey in the Billy Eckstine Orchestra playing Blowin’ the Blues Away. A young professional drummer then in my mid-twenties, Blakey’s playing on Blowin’ was a pivotal moment; a great lesson in swinging a band hard without overplaying. Also, a great lesson in using the bass drum to accent horn lines.

Then there is what I think of as Art Blakey’s minimalist drumming. He has perfected his ability to pare down his drumming to only what is absolutely necessary to accompany soloists, and to keep the tune swinging.

Blakey’s drumming on the title track from his Blue Note label Jazz Messengers album, Like Someone in Love, is a classic soundscape of his minimalist side. My ears always welcome this beautifully arranged medium tempo ballad. From Bobby Timmons’s introduction, through Lee Morgan’s unbelievable trumpet solo, and Timmons’s excellent piano solo, Like Someone in Love is very high on my list of favorite jazz tracks.

And Blakey? For most of the song, with drumsticks, Blakey limits his accompaniment to playing time on a riveted ride cymbal, clipping beats two and four with his hi-hat. Add a couple of snare drum taps, one soft roll, and some easy ride cymbal accents — a perfect performance, a perfect example of a drummer supporting his band members and never getting in the way.

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