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 58)
Montreal, Canada
GenresJazz
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
Instrument(s)Tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute, piano
Websitewww.michaelblake.net

Michael Blake (born May 19, 1964) is a Canadian-born American saxophonist, composer, arranger, and bandleader.[1] Over the course of his career he formed the bands Blake Tartare, Hellbent, Mr Carefree, Elevated Quartet, The Eulipion Orchestra, The Variety Hour, Red Hook Soul, Blake & Brass XL, Chroma Nova and co-lead the groups Made in China and Slow Poke.[2] As a sideman 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, Ricki Lee Jones and Ray LaMontagne.

Early life[edit]

Michael Blake was born in Montreal, Canada. His mother Merle Stevens was a professional dancer in Montreal when she met his father Francis Patrick Blake. Michael's father moved the family to Vancouver and Toronto before taking a Public Relations job with the San Francisco Opera. 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 older brother started playing alto saxophone, he picked up the clarinet.[3] Michael started on the tenor saxophone in High School after reading the biography Chasin' the Trane about saxophonist John Coltrane.[4] 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. 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.

Michael began his professional career in Vancouver, performing with local jazz musicians Hugh Fraser, Phil Dwyer, John Korsrud, Jim Chivers and Kate Hammett-Vaughan.[5] He also worked 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.

Career[edit]

1990s[edit]

In the fall of 1989 Blake started working with John Lurie and The Lounge Lizards, and for that band he began playing soprano saxophone.[6] 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.[7] Blake also played saxophone and clarinet on Lurie's TV series Fishing with John and film scores for Get Shorty and Excess Baggage.

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 and joined the Herbie Nichols Project, a repertoire ensemble devoted to the music of pianist/composer Herbie Nichols.[8]

In 1996 Michael signed with Intuition Music and released two albums. His debut album Kingdom of Champa (1997), a concept album about Vietnam, was engineered by Scott Harding and produced by Teo Macero.[9] He reassembled the team of Macero and Harding to produce and mix his second release Drift.[10]

In 1997 Blake formed a band with David Tronzo, Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen called Slow Poke. Between 1997 and 2001 Slow Poke recorded Slow Poke at Home and Redemption , toured in Canada and Europe. Slow Poke at Home was re-released in 2005 on Palmetto Records with two additional bonus tracks.[11]

2000s[edit]

Blake recorded and released Elevated in 2002 on Knitting Factory Records.[12] For their 2001–2002 season Sundance TV hired Blake to write the theme for their TV series Conversations in World Cinema for which he rerecorded several themes from Elevated.

In 2002 Michael recorded Blake Tartare with Danish musicians Kresten Osgood, Soren Kjaergaard, and Jonas Westergaard.[13] The following year he signed with the Danish jazz label Stunt Music to record More Like Us featuring singer/songwriter Maria Laurette-Friss[14] and The World Awakes (2008), a tribute to saxophonist Eli 'Lucky' Thompson.[15] Under Kresten Osgood's leadership, Blake toured Denmark in 2002 and recorded a live album, Hammond Rens featuring organist Lonnie Smith.[16] 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.[17]

In 2003 the Canadian composer and bandleader John Korsrud commissioned Michael to compose new works for his Hard Rubber Orchestra.[18] Blake subsequently presented his own big band called The Eulipion Orchestra during his artist-in-residence at the Jazz Standard in NYC. The orchestra featured NYC musicians described by NY Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff as, "from all over the map".[19]

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.[20]

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.

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.[21]

From 2007 to 2016 Michael began recording a trilogy of Canadian-themed concept albums for the Vancouver-based label Songlines.[22] Collaborating with a new generation of musicians including Brad Turner, Chris Gestrin, Dylan van der Schyff and JP Carter. His first album Amor de Cosmos[23] was dedicated to his grandfather, who died at the age of 101. 2012's In the Grand Scheme of Things 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-granduncle 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 the Elton John 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.[24]

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.[25]

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.[26]

2010s[edit]

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.[27] Blake wrote an analysis of his solo from the title track for DownBeat Magazine's Woodshed Department.[28]

In 2015 Michael recorded Red Hook Soul (2016) for Ropeadope with Tony Scherr, Erik Deutsch, Ari Blotnick, Moses Patrou and Tim Lüntzel.[29]

From 2015 to 2019 Michael was on faculty at Jerry Granelli's Creative Music Workshop in Halifax, Canada. In 2019 Granelli arranged a residency and recording session with Blake, cellist Peggy Lee, and pianist Chris Gestrin at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

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.

Starting in 2018 Blake began writing profiles on musicians (Jay Rodrigues,[30] Marcus Rojas,[31] Gina Leishman[32]) published on All About Jazz.

2020s[edit]

In late 2020 Michael recorded an original set of music for a new project called Chroma Nova. The still unreleased album, Dance of the Mystic Bliss was mixed by Scott Harding and features Brazilian percussionists Mauro Refosco and Rogerio Bocatto.

Blake rejoined his Lounge Lizards colleagues in 2021 and 2022 to record new music for John Lurie's TV Series Painting with John on HBO.

In October 2022 Michael released Comboblulate for Newvelle Records. He composed and arranged 7 new pieces for the album which features a brass band with tuba players Marcus Rojas and Bob Stewart, trombonist Clark Gayton, trumpeter Steven Bernstein and drummer Allan Mednard. [33]

Grant awards[edit]

Year Award Title Organization Project
2020 Grant Explore and Create Canada Council for the Arts Compose, produce and record Dance of the Mystic Bliss
2017 Grant Touring Canada Council for the Arts Red Hook Soul
2014 Grant Production Canada Council for the Arts Compose, produce and record Fulfillment
Grant New Jazz Works Chamber Music America Contrasts in Individualism: The Innovations of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young
2011 Grant Touring Canada Council for the Arts The Variety Hour
2010 Grant Touring Canada Council for the Arts Hellbent
2006 Grant Touring Canada Council for the Arts Blake Tartare
2005 Grant Commission Canada Council for the Arts John Korsrud's Hard Rubber Orchestra
2003 Grant Touring Canada Council for the Arts Blake Tartare
2001 Grant New Jazz Works Chamber Music America Mr Carefree
1986 Grant B Canada Council for the Arts Study saxophone with David Liebman in New York City

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,[34] Tenor Saxophonist[35] and Soprano Saxophonist[36]

Hellbent was selected as Album of the Year in 2010 by Andrey Henkin at All About Jazz

Tiddy Boom[37] was selected Album of the Year by DownBeat[38] critic James Hale.[39] The album is listed on several Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2014 lists including The Chicago Reader[40] and Lament for a Straight Line.[41]

Fulfillment[42] was selected Album of the Year by Bird is the Worm.[43]

Red Hook Soul received 2016's Best Album Cover Art from The New York City Jazz Record

Discography[edit]

As leader[edit]

  • 1997 Kingdom of Champa (Intuition Music)
  • 2000 Drift (Intuition Music)
  • 2002 Elevated (P&M Records)
  • 2005 Blake Tartare (P&M Records)
  • 2005 Right Before Your Very Ears (Clean Feed Records)
  • 2006 More Like Us (P&M 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)
  • 2022 Combobulate (Newvelle 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 (Sonic Camera Records)
  • 1999 Ben Allison, Third Eye (Sonic Camera Records)
  • 2001 Ben Allison, Riding the Nuclear Tiger (Sonic Camera Records)
  • 2002 Ben Allison, Peace Pipe (Sonic Camera Records)
  • 2004 Ben Allison, Buzz (Sonic Camera Records)
  • 2008 Ben Allison, Small Things Run the World (Sonic Camera Records)
  • 2011 Ben Allison, Action/Refraction (Sonic Camera 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, Earth and Heaven (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
  • 2020 Allesandro Giachero/Franco Fabrini/Francesco Petreni, feat. Michael Blake, At the Fortress
  • 2020 Rusty Cloud, Big Apple Ball
  • 2020 Falkner Evans, Marbles (Consolidated Artists Productions)
  • 2020 Chris McCarthy, Still Time to Quit (Ropeadope Records)
  • 2021 Charlie Hunter, "Live at the Memphis Music Mansion"
  • 2021 Tomasso Cappellato, "Pioneered" (Domanda)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fitzell, Sean Patrick (29 November 2003). "Michael Blake". allaboutjazz.com. All About Jazz. Retrieved 29 November 2003.
  2. ^ Ratliff, Ben (18 December 1998). "Pop and Jazz Guide". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Brown, Todd R. (1 October 2003). "Elevate Me: Michael Blake's New York World-Jazz". All About Jazz.
  4. ^ Thomas, JC. Chasin' the Trane. Da Capo.
  5. ^ Andrews, Marke (26 August 1985). "Good Jazz Nice People". The Vancouver Sun.
  6. ^ Pareles, Jon (21 December 1990). "Lounge Lizards Revised". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Holden, Steven (9 September 1992). "Music Meets Attitude: Lounge Lizards Concert". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Ratliff, Ben (17 March 2002). "Even Loners Find Safety in Numbers". New York Times.
  9. ^ Blake, Michael. "Kingdom of Champa". Jazztimes. Jazztimes.
  10. ^ Smith, Steve (1 June 2001). "Michael Blake: Drift". JazzTimes.
  11. ^ Chinen, Nate (18 November 2007). "Iceland, Nigeria, New York: Discovery and Rediscovery". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Bennett, Bill (25 April 2019). "Michael Blake: Elevated". JazzTimes. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  13. ^ Tartare, Blake (January 2007). "Best of 2006". Downbeat. 74 (1): 50.
  14. ^ McCaw, Michael (November 2006). "Michael Blake's Blake Tartare: More Like Us". All About Jazz. All About Jazz.
  15. ^ Blake, Michael. "The World Awakes". Jazztimes. Jazztimes.
  16. ^ McCaw, Michael (5 September 2005). "Smith/Blake/Osgood/Provis: Hammond Rens". allaboutjazz.com. All About Jazz. Retrieved 5 September 2005.
  17. ^ Collins, Troy (April 2009). "Michael Blake / Kresten Osgood: Control This". All About Jazz. All About Jazz.
  18. ^ Varty, Alex (27 February 2003). "Blake Plays Sax Like A Mother". The Georgia Straight.
  19. ^ Ratliff, Ben (14 March 2003). "Pap and Jazz Guide". The New York Times.
  20. ^ Ratliff, Ben (September 2005). "Playlist". The New York Times.
  21. ^ Henkin, Andrey (January 2011). "Best of 2010" (PDF). Michael Blake. New York Jazz Record.
  22. ^ Blake, Michael. "Michael Blake". Songlines. Songlines.
  23. ^ Blake, Michael. "Amor de Cosmos". Jazztimes. Jazztimes.
  24. ^ Sedaka, Neil (14 April 2013). "Biography". neilsedaka.com.
  25. ^ Milkowski, Bill. "Road to Recovery". JazzTimes.com. Jazztimes. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  26. ^ Chinen, Nate (19 March 2009). "You're Gonna Keep on Drinking? O.K., They'll Keep on Playing". The New York Times.
  27. ^ Boom, Tiddy (28 November 2014). "Tiddy Boom". The Chicago Reader.
  28. ^ Blake, Michael (August 2014). "Michael Blake's Tenor Saxophone Solo on Tiddy Boom". Downbeat Magazine. 81 (8): 94–95.
  29. ^ Comandini, Maurizio (26 January 2017). "Red Hook Soul". All About Jazz. All About Jazz.
  30. ^ Rodrigues, Jay (11 April 2018). "Jay Rodrigues". All About Jazz. All About Jazz.
  31. ^ Rojas, Marcus. "Marcus Rojas". All About Jazz. All About Jazz.
  32. ^ Leishman, Gina (24 January 2019). "Gina Leishman". All About Jazz. All About Jazz.
  33. ^ May, Chris. "Michael Blake: Combobulate". All About Jazz.com. All About Jazz. Retrieved 5 November 2022.
  34. ^ Blake, Michael (August 2002). "Critic's Poll/Talent Deserving Wider Recognition". Downbeat Magazine. 69 (8): 36.
  35. ^ Blake, Michael (August 2002). "Critic's Poll/Talent Deserving Wider Recognition". Downbeat Magazine. 69 (8): 42.
  36. ^ Blake, Michael (August 2002). "Critic's Poll/Talent Deserving Wider Recognition". Downbeat Magazine. 69 (8): 43.
  37. ^ Blake, Michael. "Tiddy Boom". Jazztimes. Jazztimes.
  38. ^ Hale, James (February 2015). "Reviews". Downbeat Magazine.
  39. ^ Hale, James (15 November 2014). "Tiddy Boom". Jazz Chronicles. Downbeat.
  40. ^ Margasak, Peter (19 December 2014). "My Favorite Jazz Albums of 2014". The Chicago Reader. The Chicago Reader.
  41. ^ Macnie, Jim (19 December 2014). "Best Jazz Albums of 2014". Lament for a Straight Line. Lament for a Straight Line.
  42. ^ Blake, Michael. "Fulfillment". Songlines. Songlines.
  43. ^ Sumner, Dave (30 December 2016). "Fulfillment". Bird is the Worm. Bird is the Worm.

External links[edit]