A Look in the Library - Album of the Year

A Look in the Library: Album of the Year by Art Blakey, 1981

Album of the Year

 By JJ Lopez


JJ Lopez perused the depths of KRTU's vinyl library to find a classic album favored by hosts past and present.


How does a musician stay fresh and relevant over a 50-year career? One method has been to consistently seek out developing musicians and incorporate their talents into new work.  Legendary, thundering drummer Art Blakey did this with his Jazz Messengers, and the group remained a constantly shifting collection of talent over a 30-year period. 


The Jazz Messengers recorded always under Blakey's lead, with the faces in the ensemble changing frequently, providing an ever evolving muse for the drummer. From his early days with trumpeter Lee Morgan, into the 1980s with Wynton Marsalis, Blakey's recordings document musical transform and change, all the while still remaining grounded firmly in his own personal style.


In 1981, Blakey again surrounded himself with some of the best and brightest young musicians with whom to tour and record. Album of the Year served as the final product of 9 months touring through Europe.  With the confidence of having performed the tunes countless times, the band entered the recording studio and cut six outstanding tracks.  Among them were Charlie Parker's "Cheryl", a tribute to the great Messengers pianist Bobby Timmons with "Soulful Mr. Timmons", and the most expressive composition on the recording, "In Case You Missed It" by Robert 'Bobby' Watson.  The renewed cohesiveness of the unit shines on this track.


Reviewing the long history of the Jazz Messengers, amid the varied players and styles, it's apparent that one consistent sound prevailed throughout. That sound is the driving, soulful, blues-toned, hard bop style that defines Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.  Whether it's the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, or this work from the 1980s, the essence of Blakey remains intact within the evolving talent in Album of the Year.