In September, members of Vinyl Me, Please Classics will receive an exclusive reissue of The Freedom Rider, an album by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers that features playing from Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, and more. This new edition has been remastered AAA and comes on 180-gram vinyl. Read the Liner Notes by Evan Haga here, and sign up to receive it here.
VMP: Why’d we decide to do Art Blakey for Classics?
Andrew Winistorfer, VMP Classics A&R: When we were doing the Blue Note Anthology last fall — it didn’t come out until late spring of this year, but we were working on it as far back as November last year — Blue Note brought up that Art Blakey would’ve turned 100 years old this coming October. Blue Note were talking about doing special releases around Blakey’s 100th birthday, and they said we should look at records by him for Classics. We obviously agreed.
Blakey was probably the most prolific Blue Note artist — he was a drummer and band leader — but he had this incredible eye for talent where so many different people came through the Jazz Messengers when he was running them. Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Jackie McLean, Terrence Blanchard… it’s almost like a rite-of-passage for being a big jazz artist, you had to do time with Art Blakey.
Blue Note said to look at their catalog, and I zeroed in on The Freedom Rider partially because… in jazz, the drummer gets a lotta love, but for some of the Jazz Messengers records, you’re listening to them because you get to hear these amazing Wayne Shorter compositions, or Lee Morgan solos. But on this record, the title track is this crazy drum solo that I felt we should highlight; Blakey said he made this drum solo as a tribute to the Freedom Riders in the Civil Rights Movement. He wanted to give a nod to the people who were riding the buses down south to try to break Jim Crow. It felt like this record is an encapsulation of Art Blakey as a band leader and a drummer; he was very politically engaged, as much as you can be as a jazz drummer. That’s not necessarily an easy thing for people to draw a line through, but he was very explicit about it on this record.
Highlighting The Freedom Rider felt like the right one after I was reading everything, and it hadn’t gotten a reissue in a while, so we sent the original master tapes to get remastered at Sterling Sound, and pressed all analog at QRP again, like the last couple months. This is gonna be an audiophile-quality version of this record.
Tell us about the packaging.
Tip-on jacket, 180-gram black vinyl, like always. AAA edition. Evan Haga wrote the liner notes: He was a longtime writer at JazzTimes. Evan wrote a great piece about the tie to the Civil Rights Movement, and how Art Blakey’s drumming is almost like the third or fourth thing you can mention about him. He was such an impactful person on jazz that you forget how good of a drummer he was. I think this record really captures just how insane this dude was.