Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Mr./Ms.: Ms. B.C.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Ms. B.C.

When you’ve been a theme-oriented blog for as long as Star Maker Machine, it is not surprising that we occasionally repeat themes, or in this case, have a theme that nudges up against an earlier one. Almost exactly two years ago, for our “Titles and Honorifics” theme, I wrote about Fela’s “Mr. Follow Follow,” which would work for this theme (although my colleagues seemed to write mostly about doctors or royals, which itself was another theme….) 

But it isn’t so much the theme that matters, but the music, and the writing, right? 

I like jazz, but I don’t know an enormous amount about it because there’s only so much time in the day, and most of my music listening is more in the rock genre. To some extent, I’ve found learning about jazz to be intimidating, but listening to the music can be amazing. I’ve written about non-fusion jazz a bunch of times, but considering my lack of deep knowledge, I’ve mostly focused on big names, unlike my rock or folk posts that often focus on lesser known artists. And I’m OK with that. 

We’ll continue in that vein today, with a song, “Ms. B.C.” by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Blakey was one of the great jazz drummers, with a career that started in the big band era. In the 1950s, Blakey and pianist Horace Silver formed the Jazz Messengers, and over the next 35 years it became a primary incubator of talent, with nearly every famous jazz musician spending time learning from Blakey. In the late 1980s, there was a small jazz club, Mikell’s, on 97th and Columbus in Manhattan, just down the street from my apartment, and my wife and I and some friends went there a few times—but not nearly enough. One night, we saw one of the last, if not the last, version of the Jazz Messengers. While I don’t remember who was in the band that night, it was pretty amazing. 

“Ms. B.C.” appeared on a 1981 album, modestly titled, Album of the Year, featuring Blakey, alto sax player Bobby Watson, Billy Pierce on tenor, James Williams on piano, bassist Charles Fambrough, and a barely 20 year old Wynton Marsalis. Written by Pamela Watson, wife of Bobby, and a composer, arranger, pianist, singer and music educator, it was dedicated to Betty Carter, a singer who, like Blakey, had a reputation for discovering and nurturing young jazz talent.   It's pretty great.

And just because, here’s an intense version recorded at the Village Vanguard in 1982, with most of the same band, but with Branford Marsalis on alto and Donald Brown on piano: