Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers/First Flight To Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings

The Blakey was cut from 96/24 files according to Chris Bellman at BG Mastering for the surmised reason: the songs were on multiple tapes and the most expeditious way to produce cutting masters was to first digitize. The annotation wasn't clear but I don't think anyone was "trying to pull a fast one"._MF). It was Beatlemania when Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers landed at Haneda Airport, New Year’s Day, 1961. Of course, The Beatles hadn’t yet happened, but neither had Blakey and his group ever been greeted in America with the rousing enthusiasm they encountered both upon landing and during the series of shows in which they performed in Japan that month.

As Blue Note President Don Was writes in his opening annotation, “Thus it was an irony of tragic proportions that this maestro of America’s greatest indigenous art form was relegated to performing in little jazz bars, his music shrouded in toxic smoke and loud drunken conversations. But that changed abruptly in January of 1961…(when) the throngs of fans... greeted the plane on the runway and showered the musicians with flowers…”

Blakey later told Down Beat magazine, Was recounted, “It was like a florist’s shop. They wanted me to make a speech but I couldn’t. I just cried.”

In an interview upon returning home to America Blakey said “I’ve been to many countries to perform. But that was the first time that all the members of the band cried on the plane.

This tour’s history so well recounted in the 12x12 glossy booklet, didn’t seem to have sonic documentation, though footage was shot for a documentary but because of rights issues never released. Later, the production company went bankrupt, and the film and sound recordings were lost.

You’ll have to read the booklet to get the entire story (and you should!), but in 2017 found among the belongings of Fumiko Sakao, a prominent recently deceased female film trailer editor were “five 6mm (1/4”) tapes labeled “ART BRAKEY and his JAZZ MESSENGERS, Hibiya Public Hall”.

Before going any further, be assured that unlike some other “lost tapes” releases that were either poorly recorded or that of necessity, featured weird, unsatisfying mixes, this one was well-recorded, intimately mic’d, and mixed in mono on a Nagra. Expect excellent clarity, timbral, dynamic and three-dimensional mono satisfaction and somewhat less than perfect cymbal sound.

Because there’s no record of the concert set list and there were multiple tapes, the archivist who discovered them determined they were recorded January 14th when there was both an afternoon matinee and an evening show.

Producer Zev Feldman in his notes writes, “There were a number of incomplete tunes among the recordings and my co-producer David Weiss and I decided to leave those off of this release.” Because the actual order was unknown, the two chose to sequence the release “…in a way that to (them) best enhanced the listening experience."

No matter how they chose to sequence it the listening experience is spectacular. This was peak Jazz Messengers and a group with Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt having played together for almost a full year. The group had a few months earlier recorded the epic A Night In Tunisia (ST-84049).

Bought it new and remember the day! Don’t try that with streaming. (Photo:Michael Fremer)

This concert was the capper of a two-week tour of major Japanese cities. Blakey chose a program of material familiar to Japanese fans including Bobby Timmon’s “Moanin”, and “Dat Dere”, Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time” (two renditions), Benny Golson’s “Blues March”, and Monk’s “’Round About Midnight”.

The group had a chance to “rock out” and have fun throughout, leaning on the familiar to take it further into space.

Blakey’s solo on the second “Now’s the Time”, while shorter by about half than on the first one is still a slammin’ monster that you don’t want to end. The “Night in Tunisia” closer features dazzling Morgan trumpet runs, squiggling Shorter excursions and dramatic Timmons keyboard stabs. Those familiar with the album version will find this take familiar territory, yet in some ways more playful—especially Shorter’s final, powerful, twisting fog horn like “blat”-filled solo.

This double LP set is less like a Blue Note one-off detour and more like a homecoming or a reunion. Opening notes by Blakey’s son Takashi Buhaina Blakey following Was’s introduction puts the event into geo-political and cultural focus. Zev Feldman follows with production notes, Bob Blumenthal frames the group and performances, Wayne Shorter in an interview with Mr. Was talks about his entry into The Jazz Messengers and his recollections of the tour: “And they lined up at the end, we were signing 2,000 autographs and they were taking pictures. We didn’t get out of there until one, maybe two in the morning.” But mostly Shorter talked about what it was like working with Art Blakey, how this particular group came to be and Blakey’s generosity and good-natured spirit. His final anecdote will make you laugh.

Journalist Reiko Yukawa describes in personal terms how she got into jazz following World War II and later welcoming the Jazz Messengers to Japan at the airport. There’s a photo. She also interviewed Blakey and Bobby Timmons. Later she got hooked on The Beatles and moved into pop world coverage. There’s a wonderful photo of Bobby Timmons autographed “To Reiko Always stay as as sweet as you are now.”

That’s followed by the story of the tape discovery and a photo of one of the tape boxes, which appears to be for Scotch 111. And finally there are Blakey remembrances by musicians: Japanese jazz artist Sadao Watanabe, Lou Donaldson, Louis Hayes, Billy Hart, Donald Harrison (his is titled “He Gave and Asked Nothing in Return”, which pretty much summed up what the others wrote), and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana who closes her contribution and the 15 page book with “I hope people will enjoy this treasure from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers! It’s great to hear more from this incredible band. The recording is very clear. The nuances, especially in Art’s ride cymbal are fantastic…Each of these musicians is stellar. And Art Blakey? He’s the king. He’s everybody’s daddy. I can’t put it any better than that. He’s everybody’s daddy.”

The sense of family, of a Blue Note family, of a jazz musician family comes through so clearly in this package. It might change forever your perspective on jazz. It surely will give you a deeper appreciation of Art Blakey. Crank this one up. The energy level is incredible the solos inspired, the ensemble work well-meshed. And Bernie cut from tape! Other than that it says “stereo” on the jacket, this is pretty much a perfect set.

Music Direct Buy It Now

USCGRetired09's picture

Terrific write-up, but only an 8 for sound? The way you describe the recording, an 8 seems low. I read it twice. Did I miss anything?

Michael Fremer's picture
It’s tricky
jazz's picture

It’s absolutely fun to listen to loud, but although 3D mono, compared to what’s possible, it’s not more than an 8. The music for me is even the best Blakey available.
Strange that on this mono recording, parts of the instruments, independent of their pitch, are slightly left or right of the middle. Kind of extended mono.

billsf's picture

Hi Michael. You write above "This tour’s history ... didn’t seem to have sonic documentation," Not so. In 1981 a 2LP issue of the January 2 concert @ Sankei Hall in Tokyo was released in mono by Baybridge records in Japan entitled A Day With Art Blakey 1961. Needless to say, the music is marvelous. The sound may be a bit less than 8 with parts quite bright and up close while others seem a bit off mike and distant but I haven't been able to compare the two yet. It rankles me that this new issue has to be artificially hyped. The discovery and the music should be enough without adding a false uniqueness.

Michael Fremer's picture
Be my error not BN’s hype. There was no mention of that previous release so I made an assumption…
volvic's picture

I got it as well and love it and agree with the sonic rating. It is a terrific album.

anodyne jones's picture

Yet, again, sloppy reporting. This LP is NOT AAA. It was mastered from digital transfers. Please correct.


Michael Fremer's picture
In the booklet. “Yet again sloppy reporting”? Please site your reference and then stop being an asshole on my site. I don’t take orders from assholes but always happy to correct mistakes even when pointed out by assholes.
anodyne jones's picture

This asshole works for Blue Note. So I kinda know the mastering chain bub. We have been receiving emails inquiring about the Vinyl, and we are replying as such-

"...the upcoming Art Blakey release, the mastering chain on the vinyl edition of Art Blakey’s First Flight to Tokyo was not all-analog."

End of story.


Michael Fremer's picture
You have a shitty attitude. On page 5 of the booklet it says and I quote "The discs in this set were mastered from the original tapes by Bernie Grundman using Bernie Grundman's proprietary custom analog mastering system featuring a vacuum-tube playback machine." So, "Bub", my reporting was not "sloppy" yet you accused me of it. Had you first responded "Despite what's written in the booklet, Bernie Grundman first digitized the tapes before cutting. I know that because I work for Blue Note", I'd have made the change and thanked you. Again, you have a shitty attitude, "Bub".
Jazz listener's picture

I doubt very much that you work for BN in any kind of capacity that matters, if at all, given the jackass way you’ve presented yourself here. If by chance you do, best to keep your identity a secret ‘cause I’d be willing to bet you’ll have worked your last day there if they find out who you are. I guess that’s why you’ve used the fake initials, huh?

anodyne jones's picture

I understand there may have been a press release that note AAA mastering, and if so, it was an oversight. This is not correct.


Michael Fremer's picture
However it was not in a press release. It is what's written in the booklet accompanying the records. My reporting was not "sloppy" and there was no need for you to heap such abuse upon me.

PeterPani's picture

they say on the Blue Note site. And the booklet says "using...". To me these are typical wordings to avoid to say that digital was involved. If they do not say, mastered and cut all in analog domain or simply stamp "AAA" on the record cover, we can always be sure that a little digital step was involved.
Because the Art Blakey is not intended to be an audiophile product, but a "must have" for a music lover, Blue Note could be more friendly with us audiophiles and be honest, either clearly saying "AAA" or what kind of digital step was necessary to save the music.
On the other hand,I wonder, if they really used digital - why did they not improve on the veil that hangs over some instruments... Because of that, I was originaly thinking (also because of the booklet text, I mus admit) it is true AAA. Any way, I would rate it 8 for the sound, too.

Michael Fremer's picture
I don't know who you are, you have been a member here for a few hours and I have no idea why I should take your word for anything. If you can provide evidence to support your claim that the tapes were first digitized and that Zev Feldman's description is incorrect, I will change what's in the story, but not before that.
anodyne jones's picture

I would suggest calling or emailing Bernie.


Michael Fremer's picture
I have an email in
jazz's picture

there was a digital step:

If he had the tapes(which was written so) and has the analog mastering equipment (which we know), it would be interesting why the hell a digital step would then be used at all.

anodyne jones's picture

jazz..who is the "he" that had the tapes?

jazz's picture

“…mastered from the original tapes by Bernie Grundman” is not misunderstandable.

If he didn’t have them and they write this, they’re plain liars. I don’t think so. Even if a digital step was involved (I hope Michael really clarifies here after getting feedback), I’d say they did everything to mislead rather than accidentally being unclear.

anodyne jones's picture

thank you for verifying my information. we just like correct details to be given to consumers, especially for a vinyl set that will cost upwards of $50 with tax and shipping.

blue note certainly could have been more forthcoming, instead of using phrases like "transferred" from tape. to be fair, the booklet says "mastered" from the original tapes, not "cut". and also a point to note-Feldman often wings it with his liner notes.

sorry to have gotten off on the wrong foot.


Jazz listener's picture

you work in the mail room don’t you, lol. You are no BN spokes.

anodyne jones's picture

Yes, I work in the e-mail room.

You probably do a lot of Ubering and Grubhubbing to pay for all your LPs!


Michael Fremer's picture
So either identify what label you do work for (if any), or stop claiming to work for a record label. If you don't I will cancel your account.
Jazz listener's picture

for disabling this chump’s account. I tracked the same username down on another site where he was similarly a jackass and got himself banned as a result.

jazz's picture

I still wait for Michael‘s information what’s a fact or not. You must understand that, unless you identify yourself, you’re just one of us fellows telling some story without much relevance.

jazz's picture

you got from Bernie?

SloppyJoeBuck's picture

Yet, again, sloppy copywriting from Blue Note. This LP is NOT AAA. It was mastered from digital transfers. Please correct.

SloppyJoeBuck's picture

It's not a good look for Blue Note to have such abrasive wind-bags from their company harrumphing like this online, bub. Honey, vinegar, flies, et cetera.

OldschoolE's picture

I have only a few jazz LPs (about 5)! I stand embarrassed to admit that I have an abysmal jazz collection for being so into the BeBop Jazz genre. I just keep running short on time for research to find what I know I would love. I am after building my jazz collection. Unfortunately, the committed Jazz dealer I know no longer sells at my local record show. I can order from him, but buying used records without looking at them first (in spite of my mad skills in cleaning and preservation. I can't work miracles) and having to pay four times what they are worth in shipping alone is not worth doing for me. I don't have that kind of money and paying say $30 or $50 for one LP new does not a collection build up make.
As I did with a few LPs I now have, I will just have to wait however long (sometimes years) and keep hunting to find them.
I only buy used records, not only due to lower price, but I also prefer original pressings. I do not trust any of the new releases because often times the provenance is not known or sketchy especially for the asking price. I'd sooner spend $10 on a record where I have some clue as to the provenance. That's just me though, everyone has their preferences and nothing wrong with any of them.

robert r dawson's picture

digging for used records. The hunt makes the acquisition so much sweeter! That said, the Blue Note Classic Series releases I have found to be outstanding in sound AND value. Most can be had for under $25 and the titles are, like the name suggests, "classics". Music Direct, Acoustic Sounds and Elusive Disc are reliable venders.

Toptip's picture

...and this is an album recorded in Japan, any connection?

Jonti's picture

Blakey married Atsuko in '68 and also had sons named Akira and Kenji.

ilbiffo's picture mono or stereo ? (Mono but on the cover is indicated stereo?)

Michael Fremer's picture
The cover art says 'stereo' but it is mono
Tom L's picture

I have seen so much wrong information on liner notes it's ridiculous. The people who write the liner notes and press releases are frequently marketing minions or others who don't have the real information.

anodyne jones's picture

I can tell you from direct experience in the industry, if the vinyl release in question does not state "cut from tape", "all analog mastering", or something similar, you can bet it's a digital cut.


Michael Fremer's picture
You are masquerading.
anodyne jones's picture

Look I know it is a little embarrassing proving incorrect information to your readers about this pricey LP set. I think for a release this historic, double checking the facts to provide people with accurate info is not took much to don't project any conspiracies or negatives at anyone else.


Michael Fremer's picture
Is your masquerading as a record label employee, especially of Blue Note, which you are not.
lcater1's picture

One of the best I have heard. At times it's really 3D Mono making you question stereo! This was the Jazz Messengers at there best...................

Daniele Mast's picture

(I apologize for my bad English) I think that the most important thing is that a historic label, leading the nowadays LP resurgence, is misleading the customers (which is the sense to go deep in the infos writing ‘analog mastering system featuring a vacuum-tube playback machine’ without adding ‘cut from digital’? It’s like selling skim milk inside a whole milk pack) I hope that place like this, I mean Analogplanet, help me to better point my audiophile passion with critical judgment (meantime it’s not so difficult to understand how great are Blakey, Shorter, Timmons, Morgan). And said between the lines: the supremacy of Blue Note in the jazz-vinyl reissue is creating a supremacy of Blue Note in the historical perception, which could be a big mistake.

Michael Fremer's picture
Must be more careful going forward with how he describes the reissue process but I don't believe he purposely meant to mislead nor do I think the label meant to with the "stereo" logo on the cover.
my new username's picture

... between innocent mistake, willful neglect and mislead. And this is getting very tiring to the point in this lifelong hobby that I'm losing interest -- again. It happens year after year and I'm tired of supporting companies that don't care enough to cater to their audience.

If they just said, "cut from 24/94 flles using a professional ADC blah blah blah we could either be idiots and dismiss without hearing or take it for what it is. I think that would be fair to those of us smart enough to listen and decide ... but they won't take the risk of educating the customer, and that's a bad sign.

The thing is, none of this is NEW to them unless they just never read any reviews. "Hey, it looks like they wanted us to cut from tape. Can anyone tell me why?" <<-- that's an honest question. I think those conversations, if they happen at all, typically begin and end with "nope" and the marketing people just run with "from the master tapes" because they know that has value. Why else mention it? Funny thing, everything recorded to tape is "from" tape. Means nothing.

Remember the '80s, when cutting from a digital file was fancy? It could be very good ( MCA's Buddy Holly 'Legend' compilation by S. Hoffman ). The LP advertised --- you guessed it --- "from the original master tapes" and also said it was digitally remastered. How hard is that to say?

Someone at BN knows "cut from digital files" isn't sexy when there's nostalgia to sell. "Lost tapes" indeed.

DFacobbre's picture

I agree with the sonic 8, but that's no slouch; this is the best sounding Blakey I've heard! Great package too. Get it if you can!

clarets's picture

Find an original pressing Moanin' or a Music Matters Big Beat to hear Blakey at his finest.
OJC reissues can also provide surprisingly great sonics.

ilbiffo's picture it happens more and more often both records are dished(convex on a side and concave on the other) .
A real shame but now the pressing plant work in this way.

clarets's picture

I've heard 2 and both were absolutely flat

my new username's picture

After 61 years the recordings are not going anywhere.

"or the surmised reason: the songs were on multiple tapes and the most expeditious way to produce cutting masters was to first digitize."

Yes, expeditious. Compared to what, exactly? Once digital came along, analog processing became a "not invented here" construct.

What would they have needed to cut from tape?
- at least 2 playback decks, and preparation
- a willingness to go with easy sequencing or use a third deck etc
- the ability to edit with a razor, probably
- the ability to master on the fly, possibly

avanti1960's picture

Lee Morgan steals the show (which is not too shabby).
Some incredible, priceless improvisations not found anyplace else.
Love the vocal introductions, charming.
Sound on my system was a mixed bag, overall probably a 6-7.
Peace !