Title: Just Coolin’
Artist: Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: July 17, 2020
This reissue of Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers’ Just Coolin’ is from a 1959 studio album that was never released, most likely due to the fact that four of the six tracks were included several months later on a pair of live albums recorded at the legendary jazz club Birdland in New York City—Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at the Jazz Corner of the World (vols. 1 & 2, later reissued as a two-CD set.). Consequently, the original studio sessions comprising this release were shelved and are finally seeing the light of day 60 years later.
Blakey was famed as a mentor and bandleader. In the summer of 1958, saxophonist Benny Golson brought along fellow Philadelphians Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, and Jymie Merritt to create a new version of the Jazz Messengers. Although Golson left soon after, Morgan, Timmons, and Merritt remained with Blakey. Golson was replaced by the big-toned, R&B-influenced Hank Mobley, who had previously played with Blakey from 1954-1956, after that joining the bands of Horace Silver and Max Roach. Mobley composed three of the six tracks on this release with Timmons adding one.
This reviewer’s favorite tracks are the finger-snapping opening number “Hipsippy Blues” and the catchy “Quick Trick.” Other tracks like “Jimerick,” “M&M,” and the title track “Just Coolin’” all feature typically explosive Blakey drum solos.
Blakey’s intensity and energy has always led this reviewer to think of him as a jazz drummer with rock & roll energy. All five musicians on this release went on to distinguished careers, with trumpeter Lee Morgan scoring an actual Top 40 hit with “The Sidewinder” in 1964. Mobley was replaced by Wayne Shorter, who later joined the legendary jazz-rock fusion group Weather Report.
All in all, this release would be an excellent addition to any jazz library. It may be sixty years old, yet it sounds as if were recorded yesterday!
Reviewed by Paul Kauppila
San Jose State University