Ariadne’s Notes: A wonderful World Poetry Café radio show on April 11 at 1:30 PM, PST!
The talented Ran Blake called in and told us about his new CD and ended the show playing the piano with a piece called Memphis that remembered the great Martin Luthor King Jr and what he wrote in his jail cell on a bit of newspaper for the world! What a wonderful and inspiring interview!
Ran Blake (b. 20 April 1935, Springfield, MA) In a career that now spans five decades, pianist Ran Blake has created a unique niche in improvised music as an artist and educator. With a characteristic mix of spontaneous solos, modern classical tonalities, the great American blues and gospel traditions, and themes from classic Film Noir, Blake’s singular sound has earned a dedicated following all over the world. His dual musical legacy includes more than 40 albums on some of the world’s finest jazz labels, as well nearly 40 years as a groundbreaking educator at Boston’s New England Conservatory. Blake first discovered the dark, image laden and complex character driven films that would so influence his music at age 12 when he first saw Robert Siodmak’s Spiral Staircase. “There were post World War II musical nuances that if occasionally banal and as clichéd as yesterday’s soap operas, were often so eerie, haunting and unforgettable,” Blake would later write. “After more than eighteen viewings during a period of twenty days, plots, scenes, and melodic and harmonic surfaces intermingled, obtruding into my day life as well as my dreams.” Long before the invention of virtual reality, Blake began mentally placing himself inside the films and real life scenarios that inspired his original compositions like “Spiral Staircase”, “Memphis” and “The Short Life of Barbara Monk”. The influence of the Pentecostal church music he also discovered growing up in Suffield, Connecticut, combined with his musical immersion in what he terms “a Film Noir world,” laid the groundwork for his earliest musical style. That early style would become codified when he and fellow Bard College student and vocalist Jeanne Lee became a duo in the late 1950’s. Their partnership would create the landmark cult favorite The Newest Sound Around (RCA) in 1962, introducing the world to both their unique talents and their revolutionary approach to jazz standards. This debut recording would also show the advancing synthesis of Blake’s diverse influences with its haunting version of David Raksin’s title track from the movie Laura and his original tribute to his first experience with gospel music, “The Church on Russell Street”. The Newest Sound Around was initiated and informally supervised by the man that would be come Blake’s most significant mentor and champion, Gunther Schuller. The two began their forty-year friendship at a chance meeting at Atlantic Records’ New York studio in January 1959. Less than two years earlier, Schuller coined the term “Third Stream” at a lecture at Brandeis University. Schuller was recording on Atlantic—helping to define his term in musical practice—with future jazz giants like John Lewis, Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy, and Ornette Coleman. Ran Blake came to the label to accept what he calls “a low level position” that allowed him to be near the music of inspirations like Chris Connor, Ray Charles, and Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater. Blake’s long association with Schuller, modern classical music, and Schuller’s controversial term began here, and was forged by years of friendship, collaboration and innovation.
Ran Blake, p Photo by Justin Freed One of the only people in the music world who could see the potential of Blake’s unorthodox sounding musical style, Schuller invited Blake to study at the Lenox School of Jazz in the summers of 1959 and 1960. While in Lenox, also home to the classical music mecca at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts, Blake studied with the jazz giants who formed the faculty of this one-of-a-kind institution—Lewis, Oscar Peterson, Bill Russo, and many others—and began formulating his style in earnest. He also studied in New York with piano legends Mary Lou Williams and Mal Waldron. A year after Schuller became president of Boston’s New England Conservatory in 1967, Blake joined his mentor and many one-time teachers and inspirations, including George Russell, as a faculty member at NEC, the first American conservatory to offer a jazz degree. In 1973, Blake became the first Chair of the Third Stream Department, which he co-founded with Schuller at the school. He still holds this position—though the department was recently renamed the Contemporary Improvisation Department to address both its expansion from Blake’s own additions and the outdatedness of the term. Blake’s teaching approach emphasizes what he calls “the primacy of the ear,” as he believes music is traditionally taught by the wrong sense. His innovative ear and style development process elevates the listening process to the same status as the written score. This approach compliments the stylistic synthesis of the original Third Stream concept, while also providing an open, broad based learning environment that promotes the development of innovation and individuality. Musicians of note Don Byron, Matthew Shipp, and John Medeski have studied with Blake at NEC. Although Blake’s teaching career would soon become the second half of his dual musical legacy, his career as an influential performer and wholly individual jazz artist is his main source of fame. Following Jeanne Lee’s departure to become one of the premier vocalists in the burgeoning avant-garde, Blake recorded the prototypical Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano (ESP) in 1965. The recording showed a clear refinement of Blake’s style of reinventing popular standards by incorporating his other influences from Film Noir, gospel, his favorite pianist Thelonious Monk, and composers like Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Messaien. His reputation as the major Third Stream pianist, and later an educator, soon followed, as he could improvise just as easily on a jazz chord progression as a twelve-tone row. From 1965 on, Blake worked primarily as a solo pianist on more than 30 albums. Although most of the music was primarily informed by his Film Noir perspective, many of his most acclaimed recordings are tributes to artists like Monk, Sarah Vaughn, Horace Silver, George Gershwin, and Duke Ellington. These tributes merged with his teaching career by inspiring an annual summer course he still teaches at NEC, thoroughly exploring the music of a single artist. He has also recorded with Jaki Byard, Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, Houston Person, Enrico Rava, Clifford Jordan, Ricky Ford, Christine Correa, David “Knife” Fabris, and others, including a 1989 reunion with Jeanne Lee.Most recently, Blake reinvented himself again for a new millennium of fans. Although solo albums like Film Noir (Arista/Novus) and Duke Dreams (Soul Note) earned five star ratings in publications like Down Beat and the All Music Guide to Jazz, 2001’s Sonic Temples (GM Recordings) is Blake’s best received and most critically acclaimed recording in several years. The recording features Schuller’s two jazz musician sons, Ed (bass) and George (drums), whom Blake has known their entire lives and worked with throughout the last 25 years. This is his first recording in the standard piano trio format, an unprecedented statistic for a jazz pianist of his stature. This collaboration, which Gunther Schuller conceived and produced as a testament to the unheard breadth of Blake’s abilities, showcases Blake performing with a rhythm section and features a repertoire of up tempo standards and group improvisations, as well as trademark Blake originals.
Ran Claps 2012 marked Blake’s fifty years as a professional recording artist, making him one of most resilient artists in jazz history. In the tradition of two of his idols, Ellington and Monk, Ran Blake has incorporated and synthesized several otherwise divergent styles and influences into a single innovative and cohesive style all his own, ranking him among the geniuses of the genre. The addition of his innovative aural based teaching approach, and the nearly thirty years he has spent influencing future generations of musicians, makes his contributions to the long tradition of jazz even more impressive. Fifty years after his innovative duo release with Jeanne Lee, The Newest Sound Around (RCA-Victor, 1961), Ran continues to evolve his noir language on the piano and remains as active as ever with full-time teaching, recordings, touring, and writing a new book, “Storyboarding Noir.” A recent Downbeat review said, “Ran Blake is so hip it hurts … a pianist who can make you laugh at his dry humor one second and wring a tear the next.” His music still sounds fresh and unmistakably unique. In 2012, Ran performed in Portugal with vocalist Sara Serpa, in France with Ricky Ford’s Orchestra at the Toucy International Jazz Festival, and at the Qubec Jazz Festival where he performed solo with Hitchcock’s I Confess (1953). by Scott Menhinick, 2002 (Updates by Aaron Hartley, 2013)
Source by Ann Braitwaite and Katz. Thank you for another wonderful guest!
Ariadne’s Notes: On March 7, The World Poetry Café, CFRO 100,5 FM was honoured to have the talented composer and musician Wadada Leo Smith (https://wadadaleosmith.com) call in at 1:30 pm PST for an special Black History Month with his beautiful music and his advice to the world. The oratorio to Rosa Parks was breath taking. It is so important to honour the heroines of the past because their courage helps us all to come together in appreciation.
This was our best Black History Month ever with talented and insightful guests! In the interview with Wadada, he talked about his work and had the following advice for the world: “The planet needs to come together to accept each other’s humanity without conditions. Follow your heart.”
Also featured was a living heroine, Addena Sumter-Freitag, author and poet at 1:30 pm PST who had written a poem for Rosa Parks and thanks to our radio tech, we were able to hear Rosa Parks speak from archives.
Breaking news: Courtesy of Brathwaite and Katz. The endlessly innovative composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith presents the Third Annual CREATE Festival in New Haven, CT, a two-day gathering to delve deeply into his multi-faceted and unclassifiable music featuring brilliant works for a diverse roster of musicians and ensembles. Taking place Saturday, April 6 and Sunday, April 7, 2019 at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street, New Haven, CT, the festival will include performances by four of Wadada’s own wide-ranging groups as well as unique collaborations and solo performances, alongside an exhibit of Smith’s Ankhrasmation Symbolic Language Art-Scores. Go to http://firehouse12.com/ for more information.
Wadada Leo Smith’s latest album Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs is out this FRIDAY, February 15, 2019 via TUM Records. The recording features another extended composition by Smith inspired by the civil rights movement in the United States. This new major work is composed for the iconic civil rights hero Rosa Parks (1913-2005) and performed by three vocalists, a double-quartet and a drummer with electronics.
The album was released in February 2019 to celebrate Rosa Parks’ birthday on February 4.
“With its haunting string arrangement and slowly accumulating harmonic energy, the movement ‘Mercy, Music for Double Quartet’ evokes the piercing tension of the moment Parks refused to give up her seat, as well as the triumphant sense of mercy and equality that was restored when, after 381 days of boycotts, the federal district court ruled that racially segregated buses were unconstitutional.” – Brian Zimmerman,
“Rosa Parks: Pure Love…is in many ways a culmination of Smith’s multi-faceted, extensive body of work approaching the intersection of human rights, the potency of individual action in the arc of history, and spiritual expression. It also serves as a personal and political statement, acting as a reminder that the struggle for human rights and justice depends on the bravery and moral strength of individuals, but also requires grounding in history, intellectual astuteness, and hard-nosed pragmatism.” – Bobby Davis, Black Grooves
“Rosa Parks: Pure Love is an album to listen to all the way through, not to be excerpted, chopped up, or played piece by piece. There is a flow from beginning to end, a storyline writ by music and words that comes to an end all too soon….this album opens (for some, reopens) doors that one must enter to understand how we got to now, how the politics of 2019 is built upon the responses and reactions to the events of the 1950s (and before) and the misguided beliefs of certain members of society that have been ingrained since before this country became United.” – Richard Kamins, StepTempest.
Wadada Leo Smith Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs
Featuring vocalists Karen Parks, Min Xiao-Fen Carmina Escobar, with RedKoral Quartet, BlueTrumpet Quartet, drummer Pheeroan akLaff and Hardedge (electronics)
To be released February 15, 2019 via TUM Records
Wadada Leo Smith’s latest album Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs features another extended composition by Smith inspired by the civil rights movement in the United States. This new major work is composed for the iconic civil rights hero Rosa Parks (1913-2005) and performed by three vocalists, a double-quartet and a drummer with electronics. The album is released in February 2019 to celebrate Rosa Parks’ birthday on February 4.
“The oratorio is composed for the iconic Rosa Parks, a person of exceptional courage and wisdom, who made the right move of resistance at the right time,” says Smith. “Her action generated a movement worldwide for liberty and justice for human beings.”
“Rosa Parks: Pure Love employs the song form as composition to convey a philosophical and spiritual narrative about my vision of Rosa Parks,” he continues. “The oratorio is concerned with ideas and my meditation on the Civil Rights movement, and through lighting, photographs and video images, reconnecting history in the present.”
Embedded in the oratorio are brief excerpts from early recordings by Smith, Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins and Steve McCall, the four musicians who made up the legendary ensemble known as the Creative Construction Company some fifty years ago. Braxton, Jenkins and McCall are among the dedicates of this recording. “Our shared journey as creative artists was beneficial to each of us, and had a powerful impact on our friendship and artistic thinking. That ensemble impacted the world with its profound musical application and artistic integrity,” says Smith.
The first performance of Rosa Parks: Pure Love (in an earlier version) took place at the New School in New York City as part of the Festival of New Trumpet Music in September 2016. The recorded version of over 70 minutes in duration received its premiere at the REDCAT Theater in Los Angeles during the Angel City Jazz Festival in October 2018.
Wadada Leo Smith (b. 1941), who was part of the first generation of musicians to come out of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), has established himself as one of the leading composers and performers of creative contemporary music. In the late 1960s in Chicago, Smith, saxophonist Anthony Braxton and violinist Leroy Jenkins formed a trio (Braxton, Jenkins, Smith) that was expanded into a quartet when Steve McCall later joined them in Paris. Since the early 1970s, Smith has mostly led his own groups, which currently include the Golden Quartet and Quintet, the Great Lakes Quartet, Mbira and Najwa, among others. In 2012, Smith released his most extensive recording to date, Ten Freedom Summers, a four-CD collection which was one of three finalists for Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2013. In 2013, he released Occupy The World (TUM CD 037-2), a two-CD recording of six extended compositions performed by Smith with TUMO, a 22-member improvising orchestra. The Great Lakes Suites (TUM CD 041-2, a double-CD with Henry Threadgill, John Lindberg and Jack DeJohnette) was broadly hailed as one of the top albums of the year in 2014. In 2017, Smith received awards for Jazz Artist of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year (for America’s National Parks) and Trumpeter of the Year in DownBeat’s 65th Annual Critics Poll and was named Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association. Most recently, Smith has release a solo trumpet recording dedicated to Thelonious Monk (Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk, TUM CD 053) and a recording by a group that includes four electric guitarists, electric bass, drums and percussion (Najwa, TUM CD 049).
Ariadne’s Notes: Calling in on February 14, 1:30 pm PST the World Poetry Café, 100.5 FM CFRO was honoured to celebrate Black History Month with Drummer, composer and educator Dr. Mark Lomax, II on his monumental new 12-album project focusing on the 400th anniversary of the transatlantic slave trade. Titled 400: An Afrikan Epic, the project is a landmark exploration of the ancient history, 400-year struggle and inspired future of Black America, depicted in a stunning variety of musical settings. The recording was released on January 23, 2019, Lomax’s 40th birthday, and brings his discography to 40 albums as a leader. The albums feature seven different groups ranging from solo drums to a cello quartet. In embracing the story of the African diaspora, Dr. Lomax has not only created a landmark composition but a living, breathing work of musical storytelling that will continue to grow and evolve. He has adapted the full work into a more compact suite for performance, and has created a curriculum to present the story in classrooms through performance and lectures. He also plans to launch a website called “The 400 Years Project,” which will promote artists throughout the African diaspora who are using their creative abilities to tell this story.
In the interview, Dr. Mark Lomax made the following points which I believe will help to heal and balance the world: This far reaching project using the music of storytelling and has the goal of promoting ecology and coming together in a world that is out of balance.
*Prejudice is a learned behavior passed down through generations *People are in pain, both those who are prejudiced and those to whom it is directed. *We need to agree to heal as a human family. *Healing can become a way of being in the world *Be polite but do not avoid issues. Sometimes directed anger is a good and positive action. Source: Host Ariadne Sawyer’s notes from the interview.
Bio and description: “ Drummer, composer and educator Dr. Mark Lomax, II on his monumental new 12-album project focusing on the 400th anniversary of the transatlantic slave trade. Titled 400: An Afrikan Epic, the project is a landmark exploration of the ancient history, 400-year struggle and inspired future of Black America, depicted in a stunning variety of musical settings. The recording was released on January 23, 2019, Lomax’s 40th birthday, and brings his discography to 40 albums as a leader. The albums feature seven different groups ranging from solo drums to a cello quartet. “In 1619, a Dutch ship carrying 20 enslaved Africans landed off the coast of the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia, marking the foundation of slavery in America. To honor those four centuries of struggle, triumph, tragedy and community, drummer, composer, activist and educator Dr. Mark Lomax, II will unveil his monumental new project, 400: An Afrikan Epic on January 23, 2019. The stunning 12-album cycle traces the epic history of Black America, not only during the 400 years from the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade but back through thousands of years of history on the African continent and into an optimistic future for the African diaspora. Telling the story in settings as fundamental as the drum, through the visceral improvisation of jazz interplay and the bracing architecture of modern classical composition, the music celebrates the resilience, brilliance, strength, genius, and creativity of a people who continue to endure while offering an inspired view of the future. 400: An Afrikan Epic is the culmination of a lifetime of musical and historical study for Dr. Lomax. The composition of 400: An Afrikan Epic was a passion project undertaken after he experienced resistance to his concepts in college. The seeds for the project had been sown 20 years earlier, with the writing of his first commissioned piece, “Tales of the Black Experience.” An overview of the horrors of slavery, a reimagined version of that work makes up one piece of 400. The 12-album cycle comprises three suites. The first four albums make up “Alkebulan: The Beginning of Us,” which spans the thousands of years that civilization and music had developed in Africa prior to the encroachment of colonialism. Titled for the original Arabic name for the continent, “Alkebulan” begins with “First Ankhcestor,” featuring a gathering of master percussionists, and continues with “Song of the Dogon,” a tribute to the West African people credited with establishing ancient Nubia and Kemet (the original name of Egypt). “Dance of the Orishas” is inspired by the religion, culture and art of the Yoruba people, while “The Coming” introduces the onset of the slave trade via the words of Daniel Black’s novel of the same name, read by the author. The bulk of “Alkebulan” features Lomax’s longstanding Quartet, featuring saxophonist Eddie Bayard, pianist William Menefield, and bassist Dean Hulett. Those same collaborators recombine in various trio and duo combinations throughout 400, reflecting the deep relationship they’ve forged over more than 15 years together. “These are the musicians I trust most with my compositions.” Lomax says. “We’ve developed a music and a language that have made me a better musician, and I’m grateful to have them a part of this project.“
The second suite, “Ma’afa: Great Tragedy,” focuses on the 400 years from that fateful day in 1619 until the present moment. The first piece, “Ma’afa,” is envisioned as a ballet that takes place during the 90-day voyage of a slave ship. “I was intrigued by the idea of a ballet set in a place where you’re physically confined but spiritually free,” Lomax says. That piece features the composer’s large group, The Urban Art Ensemble, which teams a traditional string quartet with an improvising trio.
“Up South: Conversations on American Idealism” consists of two extended pieces examining the North’s economically-driven, complicity in southern slavery, before Lomax narrows his lens to focus on individual icons. “Four Women,” written for UCelli: The Columbus Cello Quartet, pays tribute to Queen Nzinga, the 17th-century leader of Angola who used a combination of hard and soft power to resist Portuguese colonization; Ida B. Wells, the pioneering journalist and early Civil Rights leader; Angela Davis, the fierce 1960s counterculture activist; and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the modern-day Nigerian novelist. “Blues in August,” meanwhile, is inspired by playwright August Wilson’s century-spanning Pittsburgh Cycle.
The final suite, “Afro-Futurism: The Return to Uhuru,” envisions the healing and thriving of Black America, and all of humanity, over the next 400 years. “The last stage points to where humanity is headed,” Lomax explains. “It’s about what it means to be a fully optimized human being, collectively as well as with regards to Africans in America who have slavery in their lineage and Africans on the continent who are still dealing with the ramifications of colonialism.” The overwhelming history ends as it began, with the unaccompanied drum. “My research gave me a cultural and historical context,” he explains, “and the music started to come from the research. This has become my life’s work.” Dr. Mark Lomax, II, Critically acclaimed composer, recording artist, drummer, activist, and educator Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a Wexner Center for the Arts at the Ohio State University Artist Residency 2018 Award recipient. Dr. Lomax holds a Doctor of Music Arts degree in composition from The Ohio State University. His myriad experiences have allowed him to create a unique blend of styles in his music. Whether he’s interpreting the Negro Spiritual through jazz, arranging gospel music for a symphony orchestra, or performing his original works, his music is relevant, probing, and inspiring. A highly sought-after lecturer, Lomax specializes in the socio-political and spiritual aspects of African-American art, music, race, and the usage of the arts to build community. These ideas are documented in his TED Talk “Activating The Transformative Power Of Trust.”
Source for the article: Ann Braithwaite is the owner of Braithwaite & Katz Communications, ( World Poetry’s honoured partner) a full-service public relations firm specializing in promoting the foremost jazz artists and events of our time. Since 1986, Braithwaite & Katz has promoted the music of a wide range of internationally renowned musicians including jazz legends Jim Hall, Benny Golson, Billy Taylor, and the Heath Brothers; NEA Jazz Masters David Liebman and Delfeayo Marsalis; MacArthur “Genius Grant” winners Miguel Zénon, Jason Moran and Ran Blake; Pulitzer Prize Finalist Wadada Leo Smith; iconic pianist Fred Hersch; multiple Grammy Award winner Maria Schneider; and many more. Other clients include the Montreal International Jazz Festival and New England Conservatory’s esteemed Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation programs