Art was famous for his high-volume style of playing. His powerful relationship with the drums caused him to lose his hearing. Towards the end of his career he played with aid of the internal metronome. In the late 40s he moved to Africa for a year, learned about Islam and brought African sounds into his music.
His band, the Jazz Messengers, was one of the most important in the history of the art form. It lasted from the 40s to the 90s. He recruited the most creative young players, including Horace Silver, Johnny Griffin , Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis and Donald Byrd.