Art Blakey &The Jazz Messengers: Africaine (1959) Blue Note

Selection: Lester Left Town (Shorter)

.  .  .



Lee Morgan, trumpet; Wayne Shorter, tenor sax; Walter Davis Jr., piano; Jymie Merritt, bass; Art Blakey, drums; Dizzy Reece, congas, recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, November 10, 1959.


In late 1958 The Jazz Messengers were a very hot item, recording film soundtracks in Paris,  Disappearing Women, Dangerous Liasons, and an evolving Messenger line up: Walter Davis Jr taking Bobby Timmons seat at the piano, Benny Golson replaced by rising star Wayne Shorter on tenor.   A week after recording the Africaine session at Englewood Cliffs, The Messengers would be back touring Europe: Paris, Stockholm, Berlin.

The previous year Blakey laid down a new benchmark for The Messengers: “Moanin’ “ (BLP 4003) with strong melodic compositions from Golson and fiery solos from Golson and Lee Morgan.  In Spring 1959 came the two volume At The Jazz Corner of the World (BLP 4015 – 6). The Africaine session was positioned six months later into the year, November 1959, and a further six months before Blakey’s The Big Beat (BLP 4029) was recorded in March 1960, with the same line-up bar Timmons returning to the piano. There was a “Messenger Gap-Year”, and clearly intended to be a Blue Note release at the end of 1959,  it was intended to be Africaine.

Four months after the move from Hackensack, the session was recorded for Blue Note at Englewood Cliffs, and gave us the debut of Wayne Shorter as a Messenger. Great compositions from Shorter and Walter Davis, who had just recorded the terrific  BLP 4018 Davis Cup for Blue Note, and three Morgan compositions.  All the signs were right! But for whatever reason it didn’t happen. No Van Gelder master, no Blue Note release, no Reid Miles cover.

It was not until 1981 that Michael Cuscuna gave us the 1959 Blue Note session that might have been something like  BLP 402# : Africaine.  Instead, we finally got Blue Note Classic series LT 1088.

There is a lot of great previously unreleased material in the Jazz Classic LT series, much of it early mid and late 60s, however this session is no ordinary overlooked surplus ’60s session, it is stone-cold 1959 Messengers main Blue Note title that never was, top quality 1959 Lee Morgan, bursting new talent Wayne Shorter, and the  wonderfully expressive bluesy chordal sorties of Walter Davis Jr., plus the rest of the 1959 Messenger’s mojo  full-on.

Walter Davis Jr. stands apart from the Wynton Kelly/Horace Silver school, more reminiscent of Freddie Redd, and hits the spot for me. He has a distinctive comping and chordal voice, often minor key, which gives the Messengers a different feel.

According to the liner notes, Alfred Lion initially did not take to the Shorter compositions, looking more for the churchy gospel-influences that worked so well  in the earlier Moanin’ album. Shorter’s tune Lester Left Town went on to be revived the following year on the next  Messenger’s album The Big Beat.

For anyone curious, here is The Big Beat version of Shorter’s Lester Left Town, Bobby Timmons jaunty piano replacing Walter Davis Jr. The other important differences are of course Blue Note Mono! rather than twenty years later Capitol Stereo, and original Van Gelder mastering rather than Tony Sestanovich remixing the original Van Gelder recording.

Selection: Lester Left Town (Shorter) from BLP 4029 The Big Beat (1960)

.  .  .

Any observations on the two “takes” of Lester Left Town, feel free. Blue Note mono…yessss.

Vinyl: Liberty/Capitol LT 1088

To the record buying and selling world, it is just another of those late 70s blue label Blue Note reissues with the white framed art-photo cover, price tag barely in two figures, because they can not price the music, a gem, merely the artefact.

I invented album cover design that I imagine Reid Miles would have created in 1959, but by me, with a little help from Photoshop and the Blue Note Jazz Classics cover.

This is what you actually get:

What is interesting here is the new corporate rubric around the blue label, no longer United Artists Music and Record Group, nor Liberty/UA, but “Blue Note Records Mfd by Liberty Records Inc. a Subsidiary of Capitol Industries EMI USA“, and the copyright date P 1981. Blue Note Records was now in the hands of Capitol EMI. The mastering engineer left in the dead-wax the cryptic initials CX.


Collector’s Corner

I had either not come across or more likely overlooked this Blakey title, until on a very recent shopping trip I snagged it out of passing interest. While struggling with Hubbard’s CTI legacy, which of the five albums next? I flipped the Messengers onto the turntable, and found myself coming back to it again and again, in preference to the CTI. Slowly, the quality of the song-writing and the bursting talent made itself more and more plain, sheer class. Intrigued by its early provenance, I decided that more research was warranted, peeling back the layers, to reveal its historical place.

What I found hidden beneath the bland white frame of a Jazz Classics LT series was a Missing Blue Note, worthy of its place on the Blue Note shelf. What Reid Miles would actually have designed in the way of a classic cover, no-one knows, but mine will do for the meantime.


26 thoughts on “Art Blakey &The Jazz Messengers: Africaine (1959) Blue Note

  1. Hello, I have two of the rarest Andy Warhol record cover art boxes.One is titled Night Beat and the other is titled Voices and Events.Only one copy of Night Beat is known to exist and I believe it’s on loan to a museum.Voices and Events one has to this date never been discovered.Are you interested?


    • Hi, I’m afraid not. Never understood why people get so excited about “Warhol Cover!” so I’m not your man. Normally I don’t allow sales promotion on the site, but this looks pretty unusual item, if anyone else has an interest.


  2. I have at least something in common with Alfred Lion: when I heard this group live in 1959, I was not enthralled, having in the back of my mind Art’s concert a year before, with Golson.
    In hindsight, the latter group played the obvious, crowd appealing brand of music (Blues March, Moanin’), whereas Wayne gave the quintet a definitely modern direction. This being said, I love ‘Along came Betty’.
    When 4029 was issued I fell into the Shorter groove with the result that 4003 remained unplayed for many years.
    The 1959 group with Davis on piano was recorded live in France on RCA and by Dragon in Sweden. Both issued the recordings on vinyl.


  3. Shoulda read the full post before breaking a sweat and searching the entire internet for a pressing with this amazing cover!!


  4. Love your re-design! I genuinely wondered if what I thought was an LT-Series-only release, was actually released across the pond for European ears only! Great design.

    Ahhh the LT Series. I love the LT Series (and the Beige Book twofers) because it separates the true music lovers from the pure collectors. The covers are generally hideous, but the music is absolutely wonderful. The best Blue Note bargain you can get, as prices continue to soar, is the LT Series.

    Other LT titles I can enthusiastically endorse:

    Grant Green – Solid (arguably the best of the series. One of Green’s absolute best. Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Elvin! How it was shelved, I’ll never know).
    Wayne Shorter – Etcetera (a stunning set – 1965 – Shorter showing the Miles influence. Unreal).
    Lee Morgan – Taru (prime Morgan, amazing, cooking session, some real forward thinking tunes from John Hicks. Excellent)
    Larry Young – Mothership (1969 with Lee Morgan and Herbert Morgan – a real leap in sound)
    Bobby Hutcherson – Patterns (1968 with James Spaulding and Stan Cowell. Just wow).
    Hank Mobley – Thinking of Home (1970 with Woody Shaw(!) and Cedar Walton. The track “Justine” is worth the price of admission).

    So many other great ones. Bless Michael Cuscuna for that project.

    I’m slowly trying to collect them all.


    • I’m late to this message, well late to jazz records collecting I suppose.. ..but quickly understood in my fresh (2 years) enthusiasm that the late BN issues that you mentioned (LT-series and ‘twofers’) are the poor-man’s approach to the BN treasure hunt..
      … Now very disappointed that of all the LT-series that you mention I have none.. ..oh no: not true: I found the Hank Mobley/Thinking Of Home the day before yesterday 😊


      • No one is late to the party here, all 900-odd posts remain open, almost everything here is not “new” – records released fifty or more years ago, posts written over the years since 2011 – so all comments welcome!

        Hank has I think three LT series releases, and I most recommend “”Slice Of The Top”:

        The piece “Cute ‘n Pretty” continue to enchant me, with it’s quirky euphonium, Lee Morgan is on full voltage, and Hank’s solo is a masterpiece of control and fire.

        The fact you can buy it for small change is, frankly, criminal…


        • Thanks so much! it is great that also your older articles remain visible (and can be found by the serach machines) and open for comments.
          Admittedly, I was underwhelmed by ‘Thinking Of Home ‘ (just finished playing) ..and have to admit that I somehow ended up with TWO copies of ‘Slice Of The Top’ (the first one with a playable but serious wobble). The search goes on! now in particular for that Grant Green, Larry Young, Bobby Hutcherson .. and Art Blakey of course!!


  5. Those “Classic” era sleeves are what you would get from a online album cover generator: “Just type in the artist and the title, and the Crap-O-Matic 2000 does the rest!” Impossibly hideous. But nice job with the re-imagined one.


  6. My grasp of the evolution of Blue Note recordings from mono to stereo:
    1) The Big Bang Blue Note with Pre Rudy Van Gelder mono
    2) Rudy Van Gelder mono
    3) Rudy Van Gelder “fake stereo”
    4) Rudy Van Gelder Both Mono & Stereo recordings
    5) Rudy Van Gelder Stereo Only
    “Fake” stereo is the audio version of the Frankenstein Monster. The early attempts at stereo is an experiment with mixed results. Question: when if ever does stereo evolve to a point where it is acceptable or desirable to the Blue Note audiophile? Are the mono recordings the absolute last stop for the serious Blue Note Audiophile or just a convenient end point. During the period when both mono and stereo are both available are there any recordings where the stereo recording is preferred over the mono recording? LJC: I think you’re observation about the impact of electronic instruments on the recording process (Red Clay) is quite fascinating.


    • As a Blue Note “audiophile”, I prefer stereo originals starting in the early 4000 series for the most part. The monos, especially the later titles, sound more congested and compressed than their stereo counterparts to my ear.


    • To my knowledge Rudy Van Gelder never made a ‘fake stereo’ master; surely the fake stereo reissues of the late ’60s and early ’70s were not mastered by him.

      I’ve said this countless times but I think it’s more accurate to call his master tapes “full track” and “two track”, as calling the later 50/50 recordings “stereo” in my opinion suggests that those recordings were mixed in stereo, but they weren’t until at least around 1962, and in all likelihood Van Gelder and Lion mixed in mono all the way up until the sale to Liberty in ’66. (I have a quote from Van Gelder suggesting this.)

      It appears that stereo Blue Note is accepted by most collectors at the point when Van Gelder finally decided to stick with a specific panning/positioning scheme (trumpet left, bass and piano center, sax and drums right).

      I don’t think you will find a general consensus on either mono or stereo universally being preferred for any recording from that era. I think the closest you will get will be with Blue Train, which for some reason has an empty ‘center’ (reverb excluded), so it seems that the majority of collectors prefer mono on that (ironically, I don’t believe the album was reissued in mono the US until Music Matters did so in 2014).


  7. Spent the afternoon at the Viennese zoo. Last time I was there must have been around 1981.Saw beautiful Zebras and now checking your new posting again. What a brilliant cover you did!


  8. I have this very record sitting on my shelves and I haven’t played it for many a long year. So thanks for the prompt – I’ll dig it out for the next listening session.


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