Art Blakey: The Freedom Rider (1961) Blue Note

Track Selection: El Toro


Lee Morgan (tp) Wayne Shorter (ts) Bobby Timmons (p) Jymie Merritt (b) Art Blakey (d) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, February 18 and May 27, 1961


Featuring the Jazz Messengers front line of Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan. With so much recorded material to choose from, The Freedom Rider is  perhaps one of Blakey’s less well-known Blue Note releases. The unaccompanied  Blakey drum piece “Freedom Rider” occupies a half side: imagine Blakey playing along to a Messengers track but only the drums were recorded – not necessarily one for late night listening or radio play, but may bring out the “inner drummer” in you.  Shorter and Morgan having had a rest, they are in blistering form on the remaining tracks, and the whole record deserves to be up there with other Blakey classics like Mosaic and Buhaina’s Delight.

Another Jazz Blog for this record attracted this insightful comment:

“Shit, I haven’t heard this particular record. I gotta say man, that is perhaps one of the coolest motherfucking covers of all time. Thanks for the share man. Looking forward to checking this shit out.”

There you have it. Translation: the cover is pretty cool, thanx for the free download.

Followers of The Evil Silver Disk can enjoy free bonus tracks which of course are not available to followers of The Less Evil Black Disk. True, everyone likes a bonus. The bonus available to followers of the less evil disk, however, is the Jazz Messengers personally coming round to play in your listening room experience.

I was reminded of this during a recent equipment upgrade, play-testing the vinyl upgrade against my digital source. Despite the very fine quality of high-end digital streaming, vinyl remained much the more fresh and lively of the two, drawing you in, making you want to listen, even to recordings or artists you thought you didn’t like. That’s how it works, which is lucky, given the cost and pain we have to go through to secure vinyl.

Of the missing bonus tracks, I think I have some of them on a rare Japan-only vinyl release, Blakey’s Pisces. No, don’t tell me, you have that on TESD and there are even more bonus tracks on that too. Is this a losing battle? Can the Less Evil Black Disc ever triumph?  To find out, don’t forget to tune in to the next exciting instalment of The LondonJazzCollector.

Vinyl: BLP4156 original Blue Note

NY labels, Ear, no DG. Stereo. Could be a first stereo pressing, though the seller’s description states “1966”. Cohen Guide-owners will know.

The cover photo illustrates one of the three expressions drummers are permitted on camera: open-mouthed exuberance (problem is, the cigarette falls out), head turned to one side (Shelly Manne, typically posed here) and eyes closed, cigarette in corner of mouth ( Blakey lost in concentration, but enjoying a smoke).

Instruments are extensions of the musician, the music flows from within, not from looking at the kit. Interestingly, there were quite  few blind jazz musicians, piano especially. I guess if you have to look at your fingers, you are lost.


The Matrix: Ear and VAN GELDER and STEREO stamp. Very pretty ears too.

Vinyl weight: 145gm, surprisingly light for Plastylite, whose  pressings are more usually 170-180gm, up to a mighty 225gm for a Lexington.


Collectors corner

Source: Ebay Location: UK

Sellers Description: Superb copy  RECORD VINYL..     VG ++ (visual inspection) Small / medium amount of paper scuffs which do not affect the sound quality Play tested 100%….Near Mint , no background noise, no pops, or clicks. Beautiful recording, very crisp and clear.

Accurate description, nothing to complain about here. Nice record, still unsure about whether the claimed provenance as “1966” is an informed guess, a first or later pressing. It is music for listening to, and it sounds great.

Blakey left us this thought:

Amen. Jazz works that way for me too. Whichever format.


12 thoughts on “Art Blakey: The Freedom Rider (1961) Blue Note

  1. I have a German UA Art Blakey Compilation from 1975 called “Jazz Club Collection Vol. 1” which combines the first side of “A Night in Tunisia” with the second side of “The Freedom Rider”. Funnily, for both sides the original stampers mastered by RVG were used – the etching and stamping on side 2 are exactly the same as shown in your picture above, only with “Made in Germany” (stamped right over the “VANGELDER” stamp) and an additional matrix no. (84156 B, on side 1: 84049 A) added. Does that mean that UA actually sent the original stampers overseas? The pressing is excellent, vinyl flat and sounds fantastic, the combination of the two half-albums adds quite nice.


  2. Just lucked in a mono with ear. Scratch right across side two but not a single click!! Yay! Wayne’s sax on the opener, oh boy. Ex+ cover all foe £15!! My first Ear! Happy days.


    • Anything is possible.

      BN 4156 was recorded in May 1961 give it 4 – 6 months from recording to pressing and distribution, it is on the cusp of the transition from 47W63rd to NY labels.

      My guess? They already ordered a batch of labels from Keystone Printed Specialties Scranton PA who used the standard format of the moment 47W63rd.. Soon after, they ordered more labels, and Keystone used the new addess, NY. One Master one set of mothers and each a set of stampers, different batches of labels into the hopper, use up all the stock.

      As you know I am not a “first pressing” snob. I would bet the farm if you mounted both copies on the turntable, you couldn’t tell the difference from what you hear. One would be better than the other, due to being earlier off the stamper. Which, who knows?


  3. Ah, you beat me to the punch here. Was about to write down another exposé about the bonus cuts, but you’re right: if you have the Japanese “Pisces”, then you, too, have it all 😉

    And once again you nailed a first pressing. Congrats!


  4. You had me at:

    Lee Morgan (tp) Wayne Shorter (ts) Bobby Timmons (p) Jymie Merritt (b) Art Blakey (d) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, February 18 and May 27, 1961



    • I couldn’t figure the gap between date of recording and release, Tony. In his detailed description the seller claimed it as a 1966 pressing. However seller could be mistaken, or it had a mixed up inner sleeve, who knows. Seems an unlikely record to go to a second pressing within the Blue Note era.


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