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Pittsburgh Artist of the Week: Art Blakey

A historical marker for Art Blakey in the Hill District.
Joey Spehar
A historical marker for Art Blakey in the Hill District.

The legendary jazz drummer and bandleader was born and raised in the Hill District at the beginning of the 20th century. Blakey’s early life was not easy and by seventh grade, he was playing the piano to pay the bills while learning how to lead a band. The legend goes that a club owner forced Blakey — at gunpoint — to switch from piano to drums to make way for fellow Pittsburgh native Erroll Garner to take over on the ivories.

It was a smart move in the end, as Blakey would go on to work with other jazz greats including Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie before forming the Jazz Messengers in the mid-1950s whose ever-changing lineup helped give up and coming players the opportunity to shine.

Joey Spehar is a Pittsburgh native who started as a volunteer D.J. at WYEP, fresh out of college in 2006. He took on any job they’d let him do like editing audio, engineering remote broadcasts, and shoveling snow.