Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers recorded Moanin’ for Blue Note Records on October 30, 1958, fifty-nine years ago today. The bandleader, depicted on the record’s front sleeve, was born in Pittsburgh in October 1919; Blakey left school early to work in a coal mine, and then a steel mill, before putting together his first band. In interviews he described himself as an orphan who taught himself everything he needed to know, from how to play piano (without reading music) to the drums.
In 1943, Blakey made his way to New York where he found a place as a drummer with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, and made his debut recording with Billy Eckstine‘s band. After establishing a career throughout the 1940s and ’50s as an accomplished player, including dates with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Coleman Hawkins, Blakey joined Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers.
Blakey would go on to become leader of the Messengers for decades, transforming the history of jazz while giving an essential platform to generations of aspiring musicians and composers. Moanin’ remains one of the most iconic and enduring records in the history of the Messengers, and in Blue Note’s catalogue. In his book, Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65, Kenny Mathiesen writes that the title track “remained in Blakey’s repertoire throughout his career and encapsulates a number of the ways in which hard bop was not synonymous with bebop, primarily in a greater reliance on a regular funky groove and heavy backbeat over the more fluid and rhythm patterns of bebop, and the churchy feel of Timmons’s basic but memorable melody and earthy chord changes”. With ‘Moanin”, a Bobby Timmons tune, hard bop became a distinct and recognisable genre.