Ralph Peterson’s Messenger Legacy Celebrates Art Blakey’s Centennial with New Release Legacy: Alive Volume 6 at the Side Door, due out May 20 on Onyx Productions
Featuring the Messenger Legacy Band:
Ralph Peterson, Bobby Watson, Bill Pierce, Brian Lynch, Geoffrey Keezer and Essiet Essiet
Official Release Show at the Kennedy Center, May 31st
When it comes to Art Blakey, there is no living drummer more suited to honoring his legacy than the incomparable Ralph Peterson. As the last drummer chosen by Blakey to play by his side in the Jazz Messengers Two Drummer Big Band, Peterson is tasked with the unique responsibility to carry forth Buhaina’s torch and tradition. On Legacy: Alive Vol. 6 at the Side Door, the mission comes full circle as Peterson and the Messenger Legacy Band mark what would have been the icon’s 100th birthday. Due out on Peterson’s 57th birthday, May 20, on his own Onyx Productions label, Legacy presents drummer in the company of five undisputed authorities and alumni of the Blakey tradition: saxophonists Bill Pierce and Bobby Watson, trumpeter Brian Lynch, pianist Geoffrey Keezer, and bassist Essiet Essiet. This double album was recorded live in October 2018 at the Side Door in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
To mark this new release, the Messenger Legacy will be performing at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay, CA on May 19th, Jazz Alley in Seattle, WA on May 21 and 22 and the Blue Llama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor, MI on May 24 and 25. This national run will culminate on May 31 when the Legacy Messenger Band will perform at the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. In June, the group will perform in Melbourne, Australia at Bird’s Basement (June 5-9) and in Beijing, China at the Blue Note (June 13 and 14).
The release of Legacy comes during a particularly prolific period in Peterson’s career. This is the sixth edition in his “Alive” series of live recordings and his third release in six months. In October, Onyx Productions released the I Remember Bu: Alive Vol. 4 at Scullers with the GenNext Big Band and Inward Venture: Alive Vol. 5 at the Side Door with this quintet Aggregate Prime. Both albums received widespread international attention and resulted in features in Downbeat Magazine and Jazziz Magazine, among others.
Russ Musto sums up Legacy: Alive Volume 6 at the Side Door best in his thorough and engaging liner notes:
The legacy of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers is a living breathing tradition of hard swinging music carried on by the many players that have come through the ranks of what was arguably the greatest small group in the history of jazz. Blakey began his storied career as a pianist in his native Pittsburgh, but quickly switched to the drum kit and made a name for himself playing swing rhythms in the tradition of mentors Chick Webb and Big Sid Catlett with the Fletcher Henderson Big Band. It was during his tenure with the legendary Billy Eckstine Orchestra driving the ensemble featuring the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon and other giants of the nascent bebop movement that his powerful approach to his instrument came to be fully formed and it his work with many of the group’s players that set a standard for the revolutionary new music that grew with the band’s dissolution.
Blakey tried his hand forming his own big band The Seventeen Messengers for a short time in the late forties, but it was as a leader of small groups that he ushered his name into the jazz history books. On the live recording A Night At Birdland, with Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson, Horace Silver and Curley Russell the drummer can be heard saying, “When these guys get too old I’ll get some young ones,” and that proclamation became the blueprint of the thirty-five years run of the Jazz Messengers that began with trumpeter Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley, Silver and Doug Watkins and went on to include many of the greatest names in jazz, including Kenny Dorham, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Timmons, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, Reggie Workman, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Terrence Blanchard, Donald Harrison and dozens of others, including the gentlemen heard on this recording.
Drummer Ralph Peterson holds the rare distinction of being one of the very few drummers selected by Blakey to enter the ranks of the Jazz Messengers. A favorite of Blakey from his early days as an acolyte following in the drummer’s footsteps Peterson played in the two drummer big band featuring trumpeters John Faddis, Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis; trombonists Robin Eubanks and Kevin Weavers; saxophonists Donald Harrison, Jean Toussaint, Doug Miller and Branford Marsalis; pianist Johnny O’Neal and bassist Charles Fambrough that made its debut at The Boston Globe Jazz Festival on March 21, 1983. He would go on to hold down that drum chair with future formations of the group that performed at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival and other locations during the final three years of Blakey’s life.
In his role of carrying on the Blakey tradition Peterson has put together a fiery ensemble featuring five fellow alumni of the Jazz Messengers who continue to advance the cause of contemporary mainstream jazz as leaders in their own right. Of the group, alto saxophonist Bobby Watson was the first to enter illustrious pantheon of Jazz Messengers, making his recording debut with the group in 1977 on the Gypsy Folk Tales album that marked the resurgence of band as one of the premier units of the day. Tenor saxophonist Bill Pierce would join Watson in the Messenger front line in 1980, making his first appearances on Messenger Big Band Live at Montreux and Northsea and Album Of The Year records that introduced the world to Wynton Marsalis. The group’s remaining members trumpeter Brian Lynch, pianist Geoffrey Keezer and bassist Essiet Essiet were all members of the final edition of the Jazz Messengers that played with Blakey until his death at the age of 71 on October 16th, 1990.
The music on this double disc, culled from the voluminous Jazz Messengers discography of more than one hundred albums, was recorded live at The Side Door in Old Lyme, Connecticut on October 12th and 13th in 2018, following the band’s debut at Scullers in Boston the previous night, on what have been Blakey’s 99th birthday. The group’s performances of these classic compositions remain true to the Messenger style of no holds barred energized soloing on lyrical melodic lines with Peterson indefatigably stoking the flames employing the Blakey rhythmic lexicon of driving press rolls and rim shots, exciting tonally sophisticated tom-tom patterns, a relentless sock cymbal beat and ass kicking bass drum accents.
Disc One opens with Curtis Fuller’s “Ala Mode,” the easy grooving piece that first appeared on the Jazz Messengers!!! Impulse album on which Fuller made his debut with the transitional unit with Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt that first expanded the group to its sextet configuration. Bobby Watson’s lilting waltz “Wheel Within A Wheel”, first recorded on the Montreux/Northsea record firmly established the alto saxophonist as one of the premier composers of his generation. Freddie Hubbard’s “The Core,” a dedication to the Congress of Racial Equality civil rights action group that appeared on 1964’s Mosaic album is one of the most powerful pieces out of the Messenger repertoire. “My One And Only Love” was a favorite of Blakey’s that was often heard as one of the band’s nightly ballad features for saxophonist Bill Pierce. Curtis Fuller’s arrangement of the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice”, the title track of the 1962 Messenger album was an unexpected hit for the band. The date’s first disc concludes with “Blues March,” the Benny Golson classic written for Blakey for the Moanin’ album that remained in the Messenger book right until the band’s final days.
Disc Two starts off with “In Case You Missed It,” another Watson gem; one that plays off the theme of Ronnie Laws disco era hit “Always There.” It’s followed by Golson’s “Along Came Betty,” a second classic from the Moanin’ album that like “Blues March” remained a perennial favorite with Messenger musicians and fans from its 1958 introduction into the band’s book right up to the groups final performances. Wayne Shorter’s “Children Of The Night” is another powerhouse piece from the band’s Mosaic album. The Broadway standard “That Old Feeling” by Sammy Fain and Lew Brown found its way into the Messenger repertory as a feature for Cedar Walton on the Three Blind Mice date. Here it offers Keezer and Essiet the opportunity to step into the spotlight while the front line takes an opportunity to relax their chops. The disc comes to an exciting finish with the classic Messenger arrangement of the Juan Tizol Ellington warhorse “Caravan” that features as Blakey liked to say “no one in particular,” with explosive statements by Lynch, Watson, Pierce, Keezer and finally Peterson.
In this centennial year marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Art Blakey the music generated under the banner of his Jazz Messengers remains alive and well and advancing into the future with Ralph Peterson and the Messenger Legacy leading the way for generations to come to heed the message Blakey proudly proclaimed: “That anyone who passes through life without checking out this music has truly missed something.” So spread the word and remember, as Art would say, “Tell your square friends. They got all the money.”
|Sun. May 19th, 2019||Half Moon, CA||Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society|
|Tues. & Wed. May 21st & 22nd, 2019||Seattle, WA||Jazz Alley|
|Fri. May 24th & Sat. May 25th, 2019||Ann Arbor, MI||Blue Llama Jazz Club|
|Fri. May 31st, 2019||Washington DC||The Kennedy Center|
|Tues. – Sun. Jun. 5th-9th, 2019||Melbourne, Australia||Bird’s Basement|
|Thurs. Jun. 13th & Fri. Jun.14th, 2019||Beijing, China||Blue Note|
|Sat. July 13th, 2019||Sani, Greece||Sani Festival|
|Sun. July 14th, 2019||Umbria, Italy||Umbria Jazz Festival|
|Thurs. Oct. 10th, 2019||Pittsburgh, PA||August Wilson Cultural Center|
|Fri. Oct. 11th – Sun. Oct. 13th, 2019||Old Lyme, CT||Side Door Jazz Club (Live Recording)|
|Fri. May 1st, 2020||New York, NY||Jazz at Lincoln Center|