Michael Blake (musician)

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Michael Blake
Blake in 2021
Blake in 2021
Background information
Birth nameMichael Stephen Blake
Born (1964-05-19) May 19, 1964 (age 57)
Montreal, Canada
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
InstrumentsTenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute, piano
Associated actsThe Lounge Lizards, Ben Allison, Slow Poke

Michael Blake (born May 19, 1964) is a Canadian born American saxophonist, composer, arranger, and bandleader. He formed the bands Blake Tartare, Hellbent and co-lead Slow Poke. Michael has performed with Charlie Hunter, The Lounge Lizards, Steven Bernstein/Henry Butler and the Hot 9, Ben Allison, Nicole Mitchell, Hamid Drake, Oliver Lake Big Band, Dafnis Prieto Big Band and Ray Lamontagne.

Early life[edit]

Blake was born in Montreal, Canada. His mother Merle Stevens was a professional dancer when she met his father Patrick Blake in Montreal where he worked at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation. In 1969 his father was hired by the San Francisco Opera and moved his family to California. While living in California his older brother Paul introduced Michael to Hard Rock and Salsa music. In 1973, after his parents divorced, they resettled in Vancouver, Canada where Michael briefly took lessons on violin and piano. At the age of 14, around the same time his brother started playing alto saxophone, he picked up the clarinet. Both Blake brothers learned to play jazz by jamming together and listening to records by Be bop masters and Latin fusion artists such as Irakere and Eddie Palmieri. Michael started on the tenor saxophone in High School after reading the biography Chasin' the Trane[1] about saxophonist John Coltrane. In 1982 upon graduating Vancouver Technical High School, he received the Music Award. From 1982 to 1984 Blake attended the Vancouver Community College Jazz and Commercial Music Program where he studied saxophone and clarinet with David Branter. After finishing the program, Blake studied privately with saxophonist Patric Caird.

Michael began his professional career in Vancouver, performing with local musicians Hugh Fraser, Phil Dwyer, Claude Ranger, John Korsrud, Bob Murphy, Jim Chivers, Ross Taggart, and Kate Hammett-Vaughan.[2] From 1984 to 1985 he attended summer jazz workshops at The Banff Center for Arts and Creativity, studying saxophone with Steve Coleman and David Liebman. Blake also worked briefly with west coast R&B acts, The Powder Blues Band and Rocket Norton. In 1986 Michael received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to live in New York City where he would study saxophone and theory with David Liebman.



In the fall of 1989 Blake started working with John Lurie and The Lounge Lizards, and for that band he began playing soprano saxophone.[3] Michael toured, recorded, and performed with the band until 1999. He appeared on the albums Live in Berlin Vol 1 & 2 and Queen of All Ears and is featured in the Lounge Lizards concert film, John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards Live in Berlin 1991.[4] Blake also played saxophone and clarinet on Lurie's TV series Fishing with John and film scores for Get Shorty and Excess Baggage. He plays a lengthy improvised tenor saxophone solo over the closing credits of Get Shorty.

As well as his affiliation with The Lounge Lizards, Michael worked as a sideman in the 1990s with Jack McDuff, Charlie Persip, Gil Evans Orchestra, and singer Henry Fiol. He became a composer in residence for the Jazz Composers Collective in 1995. The collective presented original compositions at concerts in Greenwich Village, New York. Joining members Ben Allison, Frank Kimbrough, Ron Horton, and Ted Nash the collective also formed the Herbie Nichols Project devoted to the music of pianist Herbie Nichols.[5]

In 1996 Michael signed with Intuition Music and released two albums. His debut album Kingdom of Champa (1997), a concept album about Vietnam, received critical acclaim. Kingdom of Champa was engineered by Scott Harding and produced by Teo Macero.[6] He reassembled the team of Macero and Harding to produce and mix his second release Drift.[7]

In 1997 Blake formed a band with David Tronzo, Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen called Slow Poke. Between 1997 and 2001 Slow Poke recorded two albums: Slow Poke at Home and Redemption (1999) and toured in Canada, the US, and Europe. Slow Poke at Home was re-released in 2005 on Palmetto Records with two additional bonus tracks.[8]


Blake recorded and released Elevated in 2002 on Knitting Factory Records.[9] For their 2001–2002 season Sundance TV hired Blake to write the theme for their TV series Conversations in World Cinema and used selections from Elevated for their station ID bumpers.

In 2002 Michael assembled a band with Danish musicians Kresten Osgood, Soren Kjaergaard, and Jonas Westergaard in New York where they recorded their self produced album Blake Tartare (2002).[10] They were signed to the Danish jazz label Stunt Music for which they recorded two more albums. More Like Us included Danish singer/songwriter Maria Laurette-Friss.[11] The World Awakes (2008), a tribute to saxophonist Eli 'Lucky' Thompson, was produced by Danish Radio impresario Ib Skovgaard.[12] Blake toured in Denmark in 2002 with Osgood's organ-driven band, Hammond Rens. With organist Lonnie Smith, the live album Hammond Rens was released by Ilk Music in 2002. Blake and Osgood reunited in New York City in 2008 to record Control This for Clean Feed Records. This was the only album on which he plays alto saxophone.[13]

In 2003 the Canadian composer and bandleader John Korsrud commissioned Michael to compose new works for his Hard Rubber Orchestra.[14]

After winning the ear of the Portuguese avant-garde label Clean Feed Records Michael recorded Right Before Your Very Ears in 2005. His first trio album with bassist Ben Allison and drummer Jeff Ballard is a balancing act of both free jazz and original compositions.[15]

Blake played soprano saxophone for the theme to The Backyardigans, a children's TV program produced by Nick Jr with music by Evan Lurie and Doug Wieselman. From 2004 to 2010 he performed with members of The Lounge Lizards on many Backyardigans episodes and composed the underscore for six episodes. In 2021 the song Castaways went viral on TikTok creating a resurgence of interest in the show.[16]

Michael assembled the band Hellbent in 2006 with Calvin G Weston, Steven Bernstein, and Marcus Rojas. Violinist Charlie Burnham also performed with the group. Blake released the live album Hellbent in 2007.[17]

From 2007 to 2016 Michael began recording a trilogy of Canadian-themed concept albums for the Vancouver-based label Songlines.[18] Producer Tony Reif encouraged Michael to work with a younger generation of musicians including Chris Gestrin, Dylan van der Schyff and JP Carter who had established themselves within the cities improvised music scene. His first album Amor de Cosmos[19] was dedicated to his grandfather, who died at the age of 101. 2012's In the Grand Scheme of Things cover art captures the intense creativity of his son Roland, at play. The album also makes reference to several of the saxophonists personal experiences, including the birth of his daughter Iris and his brothers wedding in Zambia. Fulfillment is about the ill-fated Komagata Maru incident in which Blake's great grand uncle Henry Herbert Stevens played a role. Created as a work of atonement, the album includes guest performances by the Vancouver born tabla player Neelamjit Dhilon and guitarist Aram Bajakian.

"The Computer" by Roland Blake

Blake served as musical director for the Neil Sedaka '50 Years of Hits' Celebration at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall on October 26, 2007. The event was a fundraiser for Elton John's AIDS Foundation. Michael performed on saxophone and conducted the house band, backing up Sedaka and other artists who had hits by Sedaka including Connie Francis, The Captain and Tennille and Natalie Cole.[20]

During the summer of 2008 Michael joined the band of Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava on his promotional tour for New York Stories (ECM Records). He was a last minute replacement for saxophonist Mark Turner after he suffered a hand injury.[21]

In 2009, The Michael Blake Quartet, including bassist Ben Allison, guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummer Rudy Royston, were a regular at City Winery's Wine & Jazz series.[22]


Michael was on faculty at Siena Jazz Summer Workshop in Italy from 2009 to 2014. His role there included teaching ensembles, saxophone masterclasses and directing student recitals. He also performed in faculty concerts with colleagues including, Enrico Rava, Greg Osby, Kenny Werner, Steve Cardenas, Antonio Sánchez, Eric Harland and Ben Perowsky.

In 2013 Michael was funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to write Contrasts in Individualism: The Innovations of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. He recorded the music with Ben Allison, Frank Kimbrough and Rudy Royston and released Tiddy Boom the following year on Sunnyside Records.[23] Blake wrote an analysis of his solo from the title track for DownBeat Magazine's Woodshed Department.[24]

In 2015 Michael recorded Red Hook Soul (2016) for Ropeadope with Tony Scherr, Erik Deutsch, Ari Blotnick, Moses Patrou and Tim Lüntzel.[25]

From 2015 to 2019 Blake was on faculty at Jerry Granelli's Creative Music Workshop in Halifax, Canada. In 2019 Granelli arranged a residency including Michael, cellist Peggy Lee, and pianist Chris Gestrin at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity where they recorded mostly original compositions.

In 2016 Blake toured in Italy and Sardinia with his Tiddy Boom Quartet and performed at the historic Sesc Pompéia in São Paulo.

Michael Blake in São Paulo, Brazil

Throughout 2017 Michael performed with the Charlie Hunter Trio and recorded Live at the Memphis Music Mansion with drummer George Sluppick. Later that year, while traveling in India with his wife, Michael became interested in the bansuri flute. Upon returning home, he picked up the western flute, studying with Helen Campo and Jamie Baum.

Starting in 2018 Blake began writing profiles on musicians (Jay Rodrigues,[26] Marcus Rojas,[27] Gina Leishman[28]) published on All About Jazz.

In autumn of 2020 Michael recorded Dance of the Mystic Bliss for strings, guitar and percussion. The album was mixed by Scott Harding and features Brazilian percussionists Mauro Refosco and Rogerio Bocatto.

Blake plays tenor saxophone on the closing theme for John Lurie's HBO series Painting with John (2020-2021).

Awards and honors[edit]

Canada Council for the Arts[edit]

  • 1986 "B" grant to study saxophone in New York City
  • 2003 "Touring" grant for Blake Tartare
  • 2005 "Commission" grant to compose new works for John Korsrud's Hard Rubber Orchestra
  • 2006 "Touring" grant for Blake Tartare
  • 2010 "Touring" grant for Hellbent
  • 2011 "Touring" grant for The Variety Hour
  • 2014 "Production" grant to compose and record Fulfillment.
  • 2017 "Touring" grant for Red Hook Soul
  • 2020 "Explore and Create" grant to compose and record Dance of the Mystic Bliss

Chamber Music America[edit]

  • 2001 "New Jazz Works" funded Mr Carefree in support from The Doris Duke Charitable Trust
  • 2014 "New Jazz Works" funded Contrasts in Individualism: The Innovations of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young in support from The Doris Duke Charitable Trust

Honorable mentions[edit]

Drift was selected as 1999's Album of the Year by Germany's Jazzthing Magazine Critics Poll.

Michael was selected in 2002 by DownBeat magazine's Critics Poll (Talent Deserving Wider Recognition) Categories for Artist of the Year,[29] Tenor Saxophonist[30] and Soprano Saxophonist[31]

Tiddy Boom[32] was selected Album of the Year by DownBeat[33] critic James Hale.[34] The album is listed on several Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2014 lists including The Chicago Reader[35] and Lament for a Straight Line.[36]

Fulfillment[37] was selected Album of the Year by Bird is the Worm.[38]


As leader[edit]

  • 1997 Kingdom of Champa (Intuition Music)
  • 2000 Drift (Intuition Music)
  • 2002 Elevated (Knitting Factory Records)
  • 2005 Blake Tartare (Stunt Records)
  • 2005 Right Before Your Very Ears (Clean Feed Records)
  • 2006 More Like Us (Stunt Records)
  • 2007 Amor de Cosmos (Songlines Records)
  • 2008 The World Awakes/A Tribute to Lucky Thompson (Stunt Records)
  • 2010 Hellbent (Bandcamp)
  • 2012 In the Grand Scheme of Things (Songlines Records)
  • 2014 Tiddy Boom (Sunnyside Records)
  • 2016 Red Hook Soul (Ropeadope Records)
  • 2016 Fulfillment (Songlines Records)

As co-leader[edit]

  • 1998 Slow Poke, Slow Poke at Home (Bandcamp)
  • 1999 Slow Poke, Redemption (Intuition Music)
  • 2009 Michael Blake/Kresten Osgood, Control This, (Clean Feed Records)
  • 2011 Michael Blake/Tommaso Cappellato/Stefano Senni, Live in Pisa (Punto Rojo)
  • 2012 Michael Blake/Ben Allison/Rudy Royston, Union Square (A-Beat Records)
  • 2016 Michael Blake/Samuel Blaser/Michael Sarin, Transmissions (For Tune Records)

With Ben Allison[edit]

  • 1998 Ben Allison, Medicine Wheel (Palmetto Records)
  • 1999 Ben Allison, Third Eye (Palmetto Records)
  • 2001 Ben Allison, Riding the Nuclear Tiger (Palmetto Records)
  • 2002 Ben Allison, Peace Pipe (Palmetto Records)
  • 2004 Ben Allison, Buzz (Palmetto Records)
  • 2008 Ben Allison, Small Things Run the World (Palmetto Records)
  • 2011 Ben Allison, Action/Refraction (Palmetto Records)

As sideman[edit]

  • 1991 The Lounge Lizards, Live in Berlin, Vol.1 (Intuition Music)
  • 1992 Justin Warfield, My Field Trip To Planet 9 (Warner Bros. )
  • 1993 Ben E. King, Shades of Blue (Halfnote)
  • 1993 Stereo MC's, Supernatural (G street)
  • 1993 The Lounge Lizards, Live in Berlin, Vol.2 (Intuition Music)
  • 1994 Rusty Cloud, Walkin' the Night (Moon Street)
  • 1995 The Repercussions, The Repercussions (Warner Bros.)
  • 1996 Soundtrack, Get Shorty (Verve)
  • 1996 Rosco Gordon, Let's Get it On (Studio One/Coxsone Music)
  • 1997 Rusty Cloud & S'killit, Blue Fever (Moon Street)
  • 1997 Joe Gallant's Illuminati, Blues for Allah (Knitting Factory Records)
  • 1997 London McDaniel, Anatural Aphrodisiaca (Nubile)
  • 1998 The Lounge Lizards, Queen of all Ears (Strange and Beautiful Music)
  • 1998 Soundtrack, Excess Baggage (Prophesy)
  • 1998 Tricky, Angels with Dirty Faces (Island records)
  • 1998 Walter Thompson Orchestra, The Colonel (Nine Winds)
  • 1998 Tim Otto's Pink Noise Saxophone Quartet, The Jig is Up (Pink Tomato)
  • 1999 African Swim John Lurie (Strange and Beautiful Music)
  • 1999 John Lurie, Fishing with John (Strange and Beautiful Music)
  • 1999 Chris Brown/Kate Fenner, Geronimo (Wolfe Island records)
  • 1999 Steven Bernstein, Diaspora Soul (Tzadik Records)
  • 2000 John Lurie, The Legendary Recordings of Marvin Pontiac (Strange and Beautiful Music)
  • 2000 Richard Bliwas, Walk the Bike (Rising Rose Records)
  • 2000 The Herbie Nichols Project, Dr. Cyclops Dream (Soul Note Records)
  • 2000 Tony Scherr, Come Around (Smells Like Records)
  • 2001 The Herbie Nichols Project, Strange City (Palmetto Records)
  • 2001 Chris Brown/Kate Fenner, O' Witness (Wolfe Island Records)
  • 2001 Richard Bliwas, Compose Yourself - Ten Improvisations (Rising Rose Records)
  • 2002 Kresten Osgood feat.Lonnie Smith, Hammond Rens (ILK)
  • 2006 Ray Lamontagne, Til' the Sun Turns Black (RCA Records)
  • 2009 Tommaso Cappellato, Open (Elefante Rosso)
  • 2010 Peter Scherr, Son of August (1hr Music/CDBaby)
  • 2011 Giovanni Guidi, We Don't Live Here Anymore (CAM Jazz)
  • 2013 Scott Neumann, Blessed (Origin Records)
  • 2014 Henry Butler/Steven Bernstein and the Hot 9, Vipers Drag (Impulse! Records)
  • 2015 Michael Bates, Northern Spy (Stereoscopic)
  • 2018 Greg Cordez, Last Things Last (Bandcamp)
  • 2020 Allesandro Giachero/Franco Fabrini/Francesco Petreni, feat. Michael Blake, At the Fortress (Bandcamp)
  • 2020 Rusty Cloud, Big Apple Ball, (Independent)
  • 2020 Falkner Evans, Marbles (Consolidated Artists Productions)
  • 2020 Chris McCarthy, Still Time to Quit (Ropeadope Records)


  1. ^ Thomas, JC. Chasin' the Trane. Da Capo.
  2. ^ Andrews, Marke (26 August 1985). "Good Jazz Nice People". The Vancouver Sun.
  3. ^ Pareles, Jon (21 December 1990). "Lounge Lizards Revised". The New York Times.
  4. ^ Holden, Steven (9 September 1992). "Music Meets Attitude: Lounge Lizards Concert". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Ratliff, Ben (17 March 2002). "Even Loners Find Safety in Numbers". New York Times.
  6. ^ Blake, Michael. "Kingdom of Champa". Jazztimes. Jazztimes.
  7. ^ Smith, Steve (1 June 2001). "Michael Blake: Drift". JazzTimes.
  8. ^ Chinen, Nate (18 November 2007). "Iceland, Nigeria, New York: Discovery and Rediscovery". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Bennett, Bill (25 April 2019). "Michael Blake: Elevated". JazzTimes. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  10. ^ Tartare, Blake (January 2007). "Best of 2006". Downbeat. 74 (1): 50.
  11. ^ McCaw, Michael (November 2006). "Michael Blake's Blake Tartare: More Like Us". All About Jazz. All About Jazz.
  12. ^ Blake, Michael. "The World Awakes". Jazztimes. Jazztimes.
  13. ^ Collins, Troy (April 2009). "Michael Blake / Kresten Osgood: Control This". All About Jazz. All About Jazz.
  14. ^ Varty, Alex (27 February 2003). "Blake Plays Sax Like A Mother". The Georgia Straight.
  15. ^ Ratliff, Ben (September 2005). "Playlist". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Reintsein, Julia. "The People Behind "The Backyardigans" Song Can't Believe It Went Viral 15 Years Later On TikTok". Buzzfeed News. buzzfeednews.com. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  17. ^ Henkin, Andrey (January 2011). "Best of 2010" (PDF). Michael Blake. New York Jazz Record.
  18. ^ Blake, Michael. "Michael Blake". Songlines. Songlines.
  19. ^ Blake, Michael. "Amor de Cosmos". Jazztimes. Jazztimes.
  20. ^ Sedaka, Neil. "Biography". neilsedaka.com.
  21. ^ Milkowski, Bill. "Road to Recovery". JazzTimes.com. Jazztimes. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  22. ^ Chinen, Nate (19 March 2009). "You're Gonna Keep on Drinking? O.K., They'll Keep on Playing". The New York Times.
  23. ^ Boom, Tiddy. "Tiddy Boom". The Chicago Reader.
  24. ^ Blake, Michael (August 2014). "Michael Blake's Tenor Saxophone Solo on Tiddy Boom". Downbeat Magazine. 81 (8): 94–95.
  25. ^ Comandini, Maurizio. "Red Hook Soul". All About Jazz. All About Jazz.
  26. ^ Rodrigues, Jay. "Jay Rodrigues". All About Jazz. All About Jazz.
  27. ^ Rojas, Marcus. "Marcus Rojas". All About Jazz. All About Jazz.
  28. ^ Leishman, Gina. "Gina Leishman". All About Jazz. All About Jazz.
  29. ^ Blake, Michael (August 2002). "Critic's Poll/Talent Deserving Wider Recognition". Downbeat Magazine. 69 (8): 36.
  30. ^ Blake, Michael (August 2002). "Critic's Poll/Talent Deserving Wider Recognition". Downbeat Magazine. 69 (8): 42.
  31. ^ Blake, Michael (August 2002). "Critic's Poll/Talent Deserving Wider Recognition". Downbeat Magazine. 69 (8): 43.
  32. ^ Blake, Michael. "Tiddy Boom". Jazztimes. Jazztimes.
  33. ^ Hale, James (February 2015). "Reviews". Downbeat Magazine.
  34. ^ Hale, James. "Tiddy Boom". Jazz Chronicles. Downbeat.
  35. ^ Margasak, Peter. "My Favorite Jazz Albums of 2014". The Chicago Reader. The Chicago Reader.
  36. ^ Macnie, Jim. "Best Jazz Albums of 2014". Lament for a Straight Line. Lament for a Straight Line.
  37. ^ Blake, Michael. "Fulfillment". Songlines. Songlines.
  38. ^ Sumner, Dave. "Fulfillment". Bird is the Worm. Bird is the Worm.

External links[edit]