Art Blakey

The beginning career of jazz music legend Art Blakey was amazing. He took piano lessons at school. When he was in the seventh grade he played music full-time and was leading a popular band. Not too long after, he started playing drums in the style of such players as Ray Bauduc, Chick Webb and Sid Catlett. He taught himself how to play.
He played with Mary Lou Williams at Kelly’s Stable in 1942. Next, with Fletcher Henderson for the next two years, and he toured with. Art then went to Boston to lead a big band, then joined Billy Eckstine’s band in St. Louis. Art stayed with that band from 1944-1947.

Art was considered to be among jazz music’s finest musicians such as Fats Navarro, Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon. In 1947 when Eckstine’s band broke up, Art started the Seventeen Messengers. He would go on to have several other groups with this same name. He then went to Africa to learn all about Islamic people for over a year. By the 1950’s he performed with Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Horace Silver.

After they performed together many times, he started another group with Horace which included Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley with the name Jazz Messengers. Horace left a year later. He was the known leader of the band. The Jazz Messengers played hard-bop jazz music. The roots of which were blues music. Hard bop is a mixture of bebop with gospel and soul music. An example of this is his album Moanin’ recorded on Blue Note Records in 1958. They fought hard to keep black people interested in jazz, when the ballroom jazz music disappeared. Many young musicians during the years have been influenced by this style. Jazz musicians such as Keith Jarrett, JoAnne Brackcen, Woody Shaw , Donald Byrd, Delfeayo, Branford and Wynton Marsalis.

In 1971 to 1972, Art world toured with the biggest names in jazz music such as Kai Winding, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. He also performed a lot at the Newport Jazz Festival. The best performance was when he was in a battling performance with Buddy Rich, Max Roach and Elvin Jones in 1974. Art continued to tour nonstop with help from Donald Harrison and Terence Blanchard, along with younger musicians such as Benny Green.

Art never thought of his music as similar to African style, although he did use some of their techniques such as using his elbow on the tom-tom to alter pitch. His trademark, the forced closing of the hi-hat on each second and fourth beat was created in 1950-1951, which many jazz musicians copied.

A major jazz musician and innovative in his drum style, he was unique and performed with power. The way he played was loud and aggressive. The jazz critics basically ignored what he did in the 1960’s. American audiences left him behind in the 1970’s when rock music took over the scene.

He always made time for young jazz musicians, listening to them, and helping them with their jazz music careers.

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was one of the most famous jazz music singers in America. Her real name was Eleanora Fagan. Like most lives of musicians, she had a very bad time growing up which damaged her career. Her life is written about in the autobiography Lady Sings The Blues, but there are many things in there that are not really valid. Her stage name is from an actress, Billie Dove and her father Clarence Holiday.

Billie grew up in the poorest area of Baltimore. Her parents married when she was three years old, but it did not last. They divorced and she was raised by her mother and various relatives. She had been raped when she was eleven years old, and skipped school a lot, so she was placed in The House of the Good Shepherd in 1925. The House of the Good Shepherd was a reform school for Catholics. A friend of the family helped her out of there a couple of years later. She then went to New York to live with her mother. A year later, her mother discovered a neighbor was raping Billie, the man spent three months in jail.

Things seemed to go from bad to worse. Billie had said a brothel claimed her where she worked as a prostitute , and then was in prison for awhile. She started singing for tips in the Harlem night clubs in the 1930’s. It was said when she had not a dime to her name and was about to be evicted, she sang “Trave’lin All Alone” at a club and had the audience crying. She kept singing for tips until she ended up at a popular jazz club called Pod’s and Jerry’s in Harlem. A lot of her performing cannot be discovered, but it is said she was working at Monette’s, another club in 1933 when John Hammond, a talent scout found her.

John got her to record with Benny Goodman that same year. She sang in a group with Teddy Wilson, a pianist. Their debut was the song “Miss Brown You”, and “What A Little Moonlight Can Do”, which made her a famous jazz singer. The year following that, she began recording under her own stage name. Some of the musicians who she performed with her the best, such as Lester young, a tenor sax player. Lester was a boarder in her mother’s house, so they were good friends. He was the one who gave her the nickname Lady Day. She gave him the nickname Prez. She also performed with Artie Shaw and Count Basie.

When Billie was on the Columbia label, someone gave her the song “Strange Fruit” about lynching. She sang the song at a club in 1939, afraid of some kind of retaliation. Later on, Billie said that it was similar to the death of her father, and that is part of the reason why she performed it. She was upset that a lot of people didn’t understand the song. She said,” They’ll ask me to sing that sexy song about the people swinging.” Columbia didn’t record it, but Commodore Records did. She sang that song for twenty years.

She began doing drugs in the 1940’s, married Jimmy Monroe, a trombonist in 1941. At the same time, she was with her drug dealer Joe Guy living with him common law. She divorced her husband in 1947, and departed from her drug dealer, but spent eight months in a correctional facility for women. Because her Cabaret Card was taken, she couldn’t perform in clubs in New York City for the last twelve years of her life, except once at the Ebony Club with permission.

She continued on with substance abuse, and getting into the worst relationships with men.
She died in 1959 from cirrhosis of the liver. She was just 44 years old. All she had was seventy cents in the bank, and a $750 tabloid fee. A movie Lady Sings The Blues was done about her life starring Diana Ross. It wasn’t the real story but it gave Diana a Best Actress nomination. Billie has been an inspiration for many people and is still one of the best jazz music vocalists today.