Like many venerable jazz musicians, the drummer Art Blakey hung on long enough to see his approach to music come back into style. A leading drummer of the post-World War II bop style epitomized by Charlie Parker, Blakey was better known for his leadership of his Jazz Messengers, one of the longest-running and consistently-excellent groups in jazz. The road to legendary status was winding, however. Eschewing the avant-garde, Blakey was ignored by jazz critics in the experimental 1960s and shunned by American audiences in the 1970s, when rock exerted its hegemonic control over the business of pop music.
Unable to land a U.S. recording contract, he released numerous albums for European labels in the 1980s and won belated attention from American critics for his brief association with trumpet prodigy Wynton Marsalis. Ten years ago, Marsalis burst onto the jazz scene as a mature leader of his own tasteful group, and he credited a stint with Blakey's Messengers for his own poise and artistic direction. By the time of Blakey's death in 1990, a tour with the peripatetic Messengers was viewed as a sort of pre-requisite for up-and-coming jazz musicians.