HARD BOP CLASSIC: ART BLAKEY AND THE JAZZ MESSENGERS-THE WITCH DOCTOR.

Hard Bop Classic: Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-The Witch Doctor.

When The Jazz Messengers were formed in 1954, the collective was led by Horace Silver and Art Blakey when they played live. However, it wasn’t until November the ‘23rd’ 1955 when they recorded At the Cafe Bohemia, Volumes 1 and 2. That night, the lineup featured  drummer Art Blakey, bassist Doug Watkins, pianist Horace Silver and a front line of trumpeter Kenny Dorham and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. However, this lineup would evolve over the next six years and even the name had changed.

After Horace Silver’s departure in 1955 the collective became known as Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. The original lineup that feared on Cafe Bohemia, Volumes 1 and 2 never recorded another album together. However, over the next six years some of the greatest jazz musicians joined the Jazz Messengers. The collective was akin to a finishing school for jazz musicians with many becoming bandleaders and recording classic albums.

On March the ’14th’ 1961, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers travelled to Van Gelder Studio to record a new album. This was The Witch Doctor which featured one of the classic lineups of the Jazz Messengers. By then, it had already recorded a string of classic albums. 

Bandleader and drummer Art Blakey had recruited bassist Jymie Merritt, pianist Bobby Timmons plus a front line of trumpeter Lee Morgan and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The new lineup made their recording debut on The Big Beat on March the ‘6th’ 1960. 

Five months later, sessions took place on the 7th’ and ‘14th’ August 1960 and this resulted in two albums. Like Someone In Love and A Night In Tunisia would both become jazz classics. This latest lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers could do no wrong.

February the ’12th’ was the first of three sessions at Van Gelder Studio where and Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers that would result in in two further classic albums, The Freedom Rider and Root and Herbs. A second session took place on the ‘16th’ February 1961 where Walter Davis Jr stood in for Bobby Timmons. This was the first time when the lineup changed since the quintet made their recording debut on The Big Beat. However, the lineup were reunited when Roots and Herbs was completed on May the ‘27th’ 1961. By then, the quintet had also recorded The Witch Doctor.

When Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers arrived at Van Gelder Studio March the ’14th’ 1961 they were about to record six tracks. The frontline contributed four of the six tracks on the album. Lee Morgan wrote The Witch Doctor and United while Wayne Shorter penned Those Who Sit and Wait and Joelle. Bobby Timmons wrote A Little Busy, and the other track was a cover Clifford Jordan’s Lost and Found. These tracks would become The Witch Doctor and were recorded by this class lineup of the collective.

Although this lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had only been recording together for a year, it seemed like they could do no wrong. The five albums they had already recorded would all eventually be regarded as jazz classics. It’s no wonder given the lineup. 

Bandleader and drummer Art Blakey was joined by bassist Jymie Merritt, pianist Bobby Timmons plus a front line of trumpeter Lee Morgan and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The Witch Doctor was recorded and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder with Alfred Lion taking charge of production. It took just a day to record six tracks that became The Witch Doctor. 

It turned out that The Witch Doctor was the last album that this classic lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers recorded. However, their swansong lay unreleased for six years and wasn’t released until 1967. This wasn’t unusual at Blue Note Records and six years passed before Like Someone In Love was released in 1966. Just like The Witch Doctor it featured Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers during a run of six albums where they could do wrong. However, things were very different by the time The Witch Doctor was released.

On May the ‘15th’ 1964, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers completed  Indestructible which was their final album for Blue Note Records. It was the end of an era.

So was the departure of Wayne Shorter from Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers in September 1964. He joined Miles Davis’ band and became part of the Second Great Quintet. This was a huge blow for Art Blakey who watched as Jazz Messengers left to join other bands.

Despite the changes in the lineup, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers signed to Limelight Records, which was an imprint of Mercury which was run by Quincy Jones. However, during their time with the label Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers only released two albums during 1965, ‘S Make It and Soul Finger. After this they left  Limelight Records and wouldn’t release another album until 1970.

With no recording contract, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers concentrated on touring. They toured Europe and spent time in Japan. The only problem was that the lineup continued to change. No longer was their a settled lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. It was very different from when the classic lineup recorded six classic albums during 1960 and 1961.

By 1967, music and jazz had changed. Rock music was the most popular genre and jazz musicians were experimenting with free jazz and fusion while soul-jazz was growing in popularity. However, the hard bop that Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had pioneered was no longer as popular as it had once been. This was worrying as Blue Note Records had decided to belatedly release The Witch Doctor in 1967.  

When The Witch Doctor was released to critical acclaim in 1967. Although hard bop was no longer as popular as it had once been critics recognised the quality of the music on the album. It was the last album that the classic quintet had recorded and would eventually be regarded as a jazz classic.

The Witch Doctor opens with the title-track which was written by Lee Morgan. He and Wayne Shorter play a leading role while pianist Bobby Timmons plays a supporting role. They all play their part in the sound and success of this memorable hard bop shuffle.

It’s all change on Afrique where just Bobby Timmons’ piano plays and adds a degree of drama as the Jazz Messengers switch to 6/8 time and Art Blakey is responsible for the choppy, clave Latin beat. Soon, things change and the arrangement starts to swing as Wayne Shorter delivers a breathtaking tenor saxophone solo. This seems to lift the rest of the band when they delivered their solos. Especially Bobby Timmons and then Art Blakey who pounds his drums as unleashes one of his trademarks thunderous solos. After that, the band briefly revisit the earlier themes before this captivating track comes to a close after seven magical minutes. 

Art Blakey’s drums ring out as Those Who Sit and Wait unfolds and soon the front line of Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter take charge. Again, pianist Bobby Timmons plays an important part while the rhythm section power the arrangement along and ensure it swings. The result is a truly memorable example of hard bop from one of its pioneers as he leads one of his finest groups.

Bobby Timmons wrote A Little Busy. Unsurprisingly it’s a piano led track. The pianist is at the heart of action and combines with the front line of Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter as the rhythm section power and drive the arrangement along. It’s fast, funky and has a joyous and uplifting example of hard bop that sometimes heads in the direction of soul-jazz.

Joelle is the second Wayne Shorter composition on the album, and just like The Witch Doctor the front line and piano play leading roles. Their spellbinding solos are some of the finest on the album.

They play effortlessly as the arrangement reveals its secrets and subtleties. Then when the band play as one they reach new heights as they head for home and what’s the finest track on The Witch Doctor.

Closing The Witch Doctor is a cover of Clifford Jordan’s Lost and Found. It’s tailor-made for Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers and features their straight-ahead trademark sound that was a favourite of jazz fans for thirty-five years. The playing is tight on a track that’s upbeat and joyous which is a fitting swansong from this classic line of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers.

Sadly, The Witch Doctor was the final album that this classic lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers recorded. They recorded six albums for Blue Note Records in the space of a year and nowadays, every one of them is regarded as a jazz classic. That is no surprise given the all-star lineup of the Jazz Messengers. 

They were hand-picked by Art Blakey who allowed them to shine and play a starring role. Especially the front line of Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter as well as pianist Bobby Timmons. The three musicians play their part in the sound and success of The Witch Doctor which nowadays is regarded as a hard bop classic. 

Sadly, it was the swansong from this classic line of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers who recorded six albums in the space of a year. This began with The Big Beat in March 1960 and a year later Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers signed off in style in March 1961 with The Witch Doctor where they cast a spell with this captivating and majestic album of hard bop.

Hard Bop Classic: Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-The Witch Doctor.

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