The easy names to remember in jazz are the improvisers and the melody makers — Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk. Lesser known (to the general public, at least) and equally — if not more — important, are the keepers of the rhythm, the backbones of the form. Guys like Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Max Roach. During his 50-year recording career, Roach played with virtually every significant jazz musician, and also co-founded Debut Records with Charles Mingus and fought as hard as any man in jazz for equal rights, which led to his being blacklisted by the recording industry in the ’60s. Today would have been his 88th birthday.
Today would have been Art Blakey’s 92nd birthday. He passed away in 1990 at the age of 71 after producing an enormous body of work with his Jazz Messengers — and educating countless sidemen in the ways of bebop and hard bop. He played with everyone from Charlie Parker to Wynton Marsalis and most in between. Give the drummer some.