Edward Blackwell and his drumming skills were a prime influence on New Orleans drummers in the 1950s. He was a member of the original American Jazz Quintet, which also included Alvin Battiste, and Ellis Marsalis. Blackwell toured extensively with Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Randy Weston and other jazz luminaries.
Ed Blackwell was one of the greatest pioneers of free drumming whose main body of work remains within the group context in Ornette Coleman's Quartet and Don Cherry's units. Born in New Orleans, his drum concept fitted perfectly the needs of the new collective music-indeed, traditional New Orleans march rhythms combined with an African and Afro-Cuban influence in his work. A master craftsman, his preoccupation with shifting meters and sonics made him the ideal partner for Ornette. The nature of Ornette's music, the rapid shifts of tempo, the mobile textures, the rock swing, placed immense responsibilities on the drummer.
Blackwell's early career began in New Orleans in the 1950's. He played in a bebop quintet that included pianist Ellis Marsalis and clarinetist Alvin Batiste. There was also a brief stint touring with Ray Charles. The second line parade music of New Orleans greatly influenced Blackwell's drumming style and could be heard in his playing throughout his career.
Blackwell first came to national attention as the drummer with Ornette Coleman's quartet around 1960, when he took over for Billy Higgins in the quartet's legendary stand at the Five Spot in New York City. He is known as one of the great innovators of the free jazz of the 1960s, fusing New Orleans and African rhythms with bebop. In the 70's and 80's Blackwell toured and recorded extensively with fellow Ornette Quartet veterans Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Dewey Redman in the quartet Old and New Dreams. In the late 70's Blackwell became an Artist-in-Residence at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. Blackwell was a beloved figure on the Wesleyan Campus until he died in 1992