The music, life and times of Art Blakey

Photos and story by Leigh Lofgren – Lake Oconee News

As part of its Jazz Legacy Project, Greensboro’s Festival Hall presented The Music of Art Blakey last Thursday night before an appreciative, sold-out audience.

Blakey was an American jazz drummer and bandleader, who made a name for himself in the 1940s with Billy Eckstine and Fletcher Henderson, two of the big bands of the time. A decade later, Blakey played with jazz legends Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie before forming the Jazz Messengers in the mid-‘50s with pianist Horace Silver, in which he played for the next 35 years.

Blakey was inducted in 1981 into the Down Beat Hall of Fame and a year after his death at age 71 in 1990, into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame. In both 1998 and 2001, Blakey received Grammy Hall of Fame awards and in 2005 was posthumously recognized with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

At Festival Hall, the life, music and works of Blakey were brilliantly presented by Jazz Legacy Project creator, commentator and drummer Justin Varnes, John Sandford on saxophone, bassist Kevin Smith, pianist Nick Rosen, and Justin Powell on trumpet.

The Jazz Legacy Project was created by Varnes while teaching Jazz History at Georgia State University and the Project has an ongoing residency at the Velvet Note Jazz Club in Atlanta, where it has been consistently selling out performances for more than six years.

With the Jazz Legacy Project, Varnes seeks to highlight various jazz legends’ works with the idea to not only perform each artist’s music but to tell their stories, too. It has proven to be a great success, as the series connects each artist’s music to a time or event in American Jazz history, while also entertaining and enlightening modern jazz lovers.

The next Jazz Legacy Project presentation will be Aug. 24, featuring Johnny Mercer, from Savannah to Hollywood, followed by Thelonious Monk, the Piano is a Drum, in October.

For information, visit Festival Hall online at, send an email to, or call 762-243-8022.