Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Art Blakey: Using groove to drive the band



There isn't a drummer in the history of jazz who could drive a band harder or with more fire than Art Blakey.  Listen to how he relentlessly he pushes the band on the song "One By One":





Blakey is the embodiment of the most fundamental element of drum set artistry, groove.  Using his incredible groove, Blakey drove the musicians he played with to perform beyond their limits.  Because of this, there are countless examples of definitive recordings of melodies facilitated by Blakey's groove.  For example one of my favorites, "Remember" from Hank Mobley's "Soul Station".


It is easy to confuse driving a band with volume.  But as you can hear in this example, Blakey often played quite quietly.  In fact, driving a band has very little to do with volume, and much more to do with intensity of feeling.  If you have the mastery of groove to convey a feeling of relaxed, but simultaneously forward pushing pulse like Blakey does, you don't necessarily need to play loudly for people to listen to you.

I also want to highlight Blakey's use of fills to drive a band.  It is almost impossible to imagine certain melodies without Blakey's volcanic drum fills at certain key transitions.  "One By One" is a great example of this.  Perhaps the simplest and most perfect example is Blakey's press roll going into the solo section of "Moanin'" (at 0:59).


That was the press roll heard around the world.  That press roll, along with Blakey's driving shuffle gave Lee Morgan the energy and inspiration to play one of the greatest recorded trumpet solos.