Blakey Art & The Jazz Messengers: Olympia Concert – Fontana – 1958 LP

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”I’ve never played for such an audience” declared Art Blakey in tears. lt was November 22nd, 1958, and he’d just come offstage after one of the “Jazz Wednesdays” concerts at the Paris Olympia. For a first appearance by the “Jazz Messengers”, they’d made quite an impression. Not content with pulling a huge crowd off the Boulevard des Capucines (the demand was so great that a second concert had to be staged on December 17th), they’d converted everybody to the “Hard Bop” religion in two sets where, united in a kind of exultant communion, jazzmen,  jazzophiles and curious bystanders alike had been crushed together in high spirits, paying no attention to the presence of Brigitte Bardot escorted by Sacha Distel. That night Blues March had almost replaced the Marseillaise anthem (and Moanin’ the Oignons). Yet none of the Messengers had ever been to Paris. They’d get to that later, and then some, but for the moment they were perfect strangers. Not only strangers to the public, but unknown even to a sizeable group of jazz fans : the next issue of “Jazz Hot” magazine (most of it devoted to them) arrived like an invasion by the carabimeri… the blaze lit at the Olympia had gone out, of course, and Blakey had moved into the “Club St. Germain” to light others; there, each of his gigs could have been a remake of the famous cabin scene in the Marx Brothers’ “A Night At The Opera”… Among the Messengers’ “greatest hits”, only Moanin’ came close to Blues March. Constructed in the manner of a gospel, with the piano in the role of the preacher, and the orchestra that of the congregation, punctuating the sermon with shouts of approval, the theme was by pianist Bobby Timmons, whose fiery spirit can be explained by his educayion: “… the fact I played rhythm ‘n’ blues had a great influence on my style, and for me, it’s the foundation of jazz.” Moanin’ had sent the Olympia fans Into transports of delight, and even excited the curiosity of Hugues Panassié, who chanced to be passing by (“Bop”, in any form, being hardly his cup of tea) : he was prompted to go backstage and ask what it was he’d heard… Decidedly, in 1958, the Jazz Messengers were miracle-workers!

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