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Born in Pittsburgh, musician Art Blakey began playing piano at the age of 7, but began his jazz career when he switched to drums in his teens. Blakey got his big break playing behind singer Mary Lou Williams at Kelly's Stable in New York in 1942 and then toured across the country during World War II with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra (1943-44). Blakey's next major gig came when he joined singer Billy Eckstine's new band in1944, where he played with future superstars Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon and was introduced into the post-big band modern jazz scene where he spent the rest of his career. After playing on Thelonious Monk's first recording session for Blue Note Records in 1947, Blakey formed his own band. At first called the Seventeen Messengers, the group soon changed their name to the Jazz Messengers, a name Blakey used for all of his bands for the rest of his career. Among other honors, the Jazz Messengers were the first jazz group to play in Japan (1960). Along with his work as a leader, Blakey toured in the early 1970s with an all-star band called The Giants of Jazz that also included Dizzy Gillespie, Kai Winding, Sonny Stitt, Monk, and Al McKibbon. Blakey also composed the scores for two features, the French thriller "The Road To Shame" (1959) and the experimental indie drama "Man Outside" (1965).
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