"The new kids need a place to play," Art Blakey said at Fort Dupont Park Saturday night. "That's why we have the Jazz Messengers." Standing on stage, dressed in an orange cowboy hat and overalls, Blakey, the grand old drummer of jazz, flashed an ebullient smile that took in the young musicians around him.
For close to 40 years, the various incarnations of the Jazz Messengers have provided a fertile musical setting for aspiring jazz artists. Saturday's concert was no exception, with nine of Blakey's proteges hammering out numbers that were sophisticated and complex and also bursting with youthful enthusiasm.
One by one, each of the players took his turn in the spotlight, with Blakey adding a strong rhythmic accompaniment and nods of reassurance. James Williams (piano), Charles Fambrough (bass) and Kevin Eubanks (guitar) provided a steady background for the melodic flights of Branford Marsalis (alto sax), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Bill Pierce (tenor sax) and Wallace Rooney (trumpet). When saxophonist Robert Watson and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (age 18) sent out their wrenching bluesy solos, the crowd was on its feet.
Try to remember some of the names above -- they will surely become a part of the jazz tradition. Also remember the name Art Blakey -- he was there when they needed him.